Cuba’s “Wanderers”

Elio Delgado Legon

Photo in Canasi, Cuba by Agnese Sanvito.

HAVANA TMES — Today, my memories take me back to a certain figure that was a common sight in Cuba’s countryside before the revolution. I am referring to “wanderers.”

Wanderers were people who, tired of looking for a job and going hungry – having lost their homes because they were unable to pay the rent – had no other choice but to become beggars. They would not remain in the city but wander the country from end to end, walking the countryside in search of someone willing to give them a bit of food.

I was 9 or 10 when, one morning, while with my mother and two younger sisters, I saw a wanderer walking down the road in front of my house.

My house was a hut with yagua-leave walls, a guano thatched roof and earth floor. My father had built it on a small expanse of land next to the road that one of my uncles had lent us.

When the wanderer reached our door, he asked us if he could come inside. He was complaining over how tired he was and the pains he felt throughout his body. He came inside and sat down on a stool near the door. He laid the large bundle he carried on the floor.

My mother, who both felt sorry for and was frightened by the man, told him she had nothing to offer him, that what we had was barely enough for the five of us in the house to make lunch out of.

The man would not stop complaining about his aching body and, casting a glance at the bedroom, would repeat: “Oh, I’m so tired! I’m dying to lie down in a bed!” He would repeat this again and again.

My mother was frightened to death that the man would decide to go into the room – dirty as he was – and lie down on the bed. She gave him a slice of bread, from the few she had for us. The man ate it greedily.

A little later, we saw one of our neighbors come up the road, hauling a cart loaded with sugar cane. My mother called him over so he would help us in that difficult situation.

The man came over and convinced the Wanderer to go with him to the sugar refinery on the cart. He went away with him and helped him climb onto the cart. The man sat down on the heap of sugar cane and placed his large bundle next to him.

Less than 50 meters from our home, the road twisted and had an incline to it. The oxen took the higher end of the incline, the cart tilted over and heap of sugar cane and Wanderer fell to the ground. The man picked up his bundle and returned to our house and started complaining again, now more intensely because of the fall he’d just had. “I was doing badly and now I’m doing worse! I’m dying to lay down in bed!”

With the help of some neighbors, the man hauling the cart set the cart upright and picked up the spilt cane. He came back to my house to take the Wanderer away with him again.

The cart headed down the road again with the Wanderer sitting on top of the sugar cane heap. We later learned he spent a few days in the courtyard of the refinery before continuing on his way.

14 thoughts on “Cuba’s “Wanderers”

  • I left Cuba in 1997, as I wrote my family were wanderers…… can’t you read????…. we was no rich nor even middle class…..

    Of course I know a lot about those areas around La Lisa…… and I know that those buildings in there was not micros but were built before castro regime….. bakeries, factories and bodegas worked before castro regime…. today there are nothing of these working, no bakery, no bodega, no factory survived the destruction……. you simply are writing “inaccurate fables’, …… anyone can tell you that Havana city was a continuous succession of modern building from Centro Havana to Arroyo Arenas….. Arroyo Arenas self and the areas surrounding this area was mansions with big lawns because the architectural laws of the city…. and after Arroyo Arenas the law stated the lawns must be bigger yet………
    yes…. I told you about “Tempo Muerto” as one of the causes of wandering….. but seasonal work was not impediment for people to have a very good life compared with actual life standards…. my family is an example of seasonal workers having good life before 1959 and very bad after castro………

    One of the things I like more in this life is to use castro self information to demonstrate castro lies…. take a look to this exposition made by your beloved regime about the building history of Havana and learn that the amount of buildings built since 1959 is minimal compared with the amount built from 1900 to 1959 ….. enjoy:

  • It may be true that there were wanderers in Cuba and it is true that now the majority of Cubans live in poverty. There are ways to get better, with Cuba free of communist ideology.

  • I have just re-read Elio Delgado-Legon’s thumbnail description of himself. In it he refers to “a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life”. His statement about the government is a perfect preface for a prescription of total failure.
    Only one with the instincts of an Ostrich could consider that the fifty five year Castro Ruz family regime has provided a better life. The real success – and it is a success – is the financial empire which the family has developed and their total control of the economy. Few dictatorships have matched it.

  • Seriously. you had one wanderer in your neighborhood before Castro. do you wanna see ten million people “wandering”? go visit Cuba. not to mention the thousands of “sea wanderers” every year on the Florida straight. the funny thing is the Castro promised to narrow the gap between rich and poor and he “succeeded”. now everybody is poor.

  • Emagicmtman, you can move to live in Cuba to stop your suffering in America, but you don’t. Like someone once said: “people vote with their feet’ That Cuba before 59 was a country of immigrants, people all over the world go to live in Cuba. Whereas, now not even you are doing do so. Can you tell me why?

  • and where did you live, along with most of your class, before you left in the early- or mid-1960’s? Probably Miramar, Playa or Vedado?
    You knew nothing about the sections of La Lisa near Arroyo Arenas, Away from Ave. 51 were mostly fields and farms then, now filled in with micro-brigade apartment buildings, primary- and high-schools, bodegas and bakeries, the glass factory, etc. . The areas I describe as having hovels built of packing crates, cardboard boxes and tin cans were near the city bus terminal (where I had to change buses to go onward to Arroyo Arenas in 1959), then located in La Lisa, close to where the Hostpital Frank Pais is now located.
    Also, campasinos I spoke with in Aguacate during my time cutting cane during the Zafra de los Diez Millones told me many stories of their hard times during the 1940’s and 1950’s, especially during the Tiempo Muerto between sugar harvests. Ignorance of these sufferings reflects your ignorance of the causes of the Revolution.
    Over a fifty-five year period I have visited Cuba seven times, some of these stays for extended periods (two and a half months, during the summer of 1959, three months during the Zafra de Los Diez Millones in 1969-70, two weeks in 2004, one month in 2006,
    two weeks in 2008, one month in 2010, and two months in 2012) and have visited every part of Cuba except Pinar del Rio, including of course Habana, Isla de Juventud, Matanzas, Santa Clara, Playa Giron, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Ciego de Avila, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba (x4) and Baracoa (and I’m not counting many other places I only visited briefly).
    All your tales of Cuba being a well-developed country before the Revolution reflect that such development was only for the upper- and upper-middle-classes; the rest suffered, just as the rest of Americans (besides the 1% and their 5% to 7% accolytes) suffer now (though not as much as the Cuban campesinos and trabajadores suffered before the triumph of the Revolution).
    Your comments just reflect the narrow little world of the pre-Revolutionary Cuban bourgeoisie, as depicted in the film Memories of Underdevelopment!

  • Theodore Draper quotes Anial Escalante, (before he was purged by Castro) one of the leading communists, who admitted that:
    …in reality, Cuba was not one of the countries with the lowest standard of living of the masses in America, but on the contrary, one of the highest standards of living, and it was here where the first great . . . democratic social revolution of the continent burst forth. . . If the historical development had been dictated by the false axiom [revolutions come first in poorest countries] the revolution should have been first produced in Haiti, Colombia or even Chile, countries of greater poverty for the masses than the Cuba of 1958. . . (quoted in Draper’s Castro’s Revolution: Myths and Realities; New York, 1962,
    p. 22)

    Castro himself admitted that there was no hunger in Cuba:

    Cuba, the “Pearl of the Antilles,” though by no means a paradise, was not, as many believe, an economically backward country. Castro himself admitted that while there was poverty, there was no economic crisis
    and no hunger in Cuba before the Revolution. (See Maurice
    Halperin: The Rise and Fall of Fidel Castro, University of California, 1972, pgs. 24, 25, 37)

    From this other Socialist website the developed status of Cuba before Castro (and the immediate effects of his take-over) are clear:

    “Firstly Cuba was already relatively developed before 1959, probably third in Latin America. Secondly,
    Cuba compares well but not is not markedly better than examples of
    capitalist countries on a similar level, like Taiwan and Costa Rica.
    Thirdly, since the withdrawal of the Russian subsidy there has been a
    terrible decline in living standards.

    Cuba’s annual growth figure of 4% over the first thirty years, even if it is
    credible, which I doubt, does not reveal the whole picture. Cuba fell from third place in Latin America to fifteenth for GDP per capita between 1952 and 1981, and the growth figures that were achieved did not arise from increases in productivity. The economy shrank from the mid-1980’s and plummeted 35% between 1989-93, back to 1970’s levels. GDP per head is now lower than Jamaica. From 1963 Cuba became a sugar monoculture within the Soviet empire. But the real crisis in Cuban agriculture is shown by the fact that half the food for Havana (three million people) is currently produced by the army, which owns just 4% of the land.”


  • I know many castro regime apologists that starts their fables about pre castro regime era like “During my very first visit to Cuba, June through late August, 1959,……”
    ……….one of them is Walter (Teague or Lippmann, I don’t know if they are same person) ……… I know (because my own experience) that one can’t call a liar to another commentator in this site…… 3-4 years ago I used to comment here but I had not same patient and same control like I have now……. the older one get, the more one can control itself…….. I know nowadays one have to call the statements made by people like you as “inaccurate”, “mystification” or “”fables” when the qualification that deserves are far harder…… I lived a bit that lost Cuba before 1959, I was raised in the 60’s Havana; I had relatives in La Lisa that was just in the way from Centro Havana to Arroyo Arenasssssss (not Arena as you wrote without the final “s”) and I remember very well that this side of Havana was a full part of the city with modern buildings, modern lightened streets, traffic lights, chalets, mansions, etc……. Havana city extended continuously to from “centro” to Arroyo Arenas without interruption…… so, I don’t know where you found hovels in this area………. pre castro Cuba was a semi industrial country with few rural population….. and it is in rural areas only you could find hovels in Cuba before 1959 or few small marginal areas that still exists today or better said have grown today to the whole city with exception of the small tourist zone …….. Cubans were one of the best fed people in the world according to ONU statistics and had the best medical attention in the whole Latin America and placed in 13 place among the world’s nations…… ….. that’s why today’s old Cubans dies at 90 or older while Cubans born after 1959 dies around 60 years old……. that’s why our fathers and great fathers are 6+ feet tall while today’s Cubans are 5 up to 5.5 feet tall…….. I suspect you mistake your travel to Cuba in 1960 with other you did in 2004….the Cuba you describe is not the one in the 60s but the one today.

  • Amigo Elio, lei lo que escribio sobre usted debajo de su foto y me parecen palabras sinceras. Pero le queria comentar que ningun gobierno tiene que proveerle una mejor vida a las personas. Las personas tienen que procurarse su propia vida. Ningun gobierno ha sido capaza jamas, en ningun pais de darle bienestar a su pueblo. Por el contrario las personas en una economia en la que el gobierno participe lo menos posible, son capaces de crear riquezas que no solo mejoran sus vidas, sino que sirven a toda la sociedad.

  • and where are you living now? I guess in Cuba right since you evidently believe that Communism is better that Capitalism

  • During my very first visit to Cuba, June through late August, 1959, (after the triumph, but before the Revolution had the opportunity or resources to put most of its social programs into effect) I saw much of the poverty Elio depicts here. One example was the effects of malnutrition on children. When I returned for two months, in 1969-70, again I could see the effects on the bodies of some of the adolescents, who were born in the 1950’s, and the subsequent generation(s), who were much healthier and more robust.(The earlier generation had “caved in” chests and “hunched-over shoulders.””) The difference in Habana was dramatic, as many of the hovels (cobbled together with packing crates, tin-cans, palm leaves, etc. which I had daily observed in the summer of 1959 on my bus ride from Centro to Arroyo Arena) were being replaced by the five-story micro-brigade apartment. buildings. Roger Marero’s statement that the Palestinos are the new wanders, and that they are far more numerous than the wanderers of old, is inaccurate. Most current migrants from Oriente eventually manage to integrate themselves with the “legal” Havana residents. First, they live discretely, in “illegal,” gerry-built residences (but even these are in better shape than those pre-Revolutionary hovels), like the ones I observed just off the semi-dry creek-bed just south of Avenida 51 on the San Agustin/Arroyo Arena line. Later, through friends or relatives, they graduate to “legal” residences. Also, it seems like half, if not more, of the Havana police force are now “Palestinos!”
    The real homeless Palestinos are the real Palestinos from Gaza, whose homes and apartments have been bombed into rubble by the mis-nomered IDS!

  • The wanderers used to walk Cuba down and up looking for work before 1959….. it is true……… my uncles and some cousins used to travel from Matanzas to Holguin or Camaguey to work as farmers help. They used to work in the Sugar industry 6 month of the year and the other 6 month when the Sugar Industry was closed thet traveled to other places to work. Not only Cubans participated in this wandering but many temporary and permanent immigrants used to do the same. People from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Venezuela, Spain and Italy that came to Cuba because the good health of it economy participate in this search for the work. The fact is that people could find work and earn money to sustain the family. My uncles could in this way buy houses, pay health insurance, give good and healthy food to their children, and raise a family. The arriving of the “revolution” of castro did not represented a relief for them but they got through same struggle to survive as the rest of the Cubans ….. only that there were no way to find a better life by wandering inside Cuba but the only way was to leave Cuba……. today all my uncles are emigrants…… Cuba no longer receive immigrants but 20 % of its population are wanderers all over the world.

    In the Spanish page of this site in the comment section to this article some posted that ” the writer (eloi) forgot to mention that the salary of Cuban agriculture workers before 1959 was higher that the salary of Cuban doctors today”

    This comment made me remember a debate I had with Walter Teague years ago about the salaries of farmers and farm’s workers before 1959 and today …… at this time Walter brought and parted a study made by castro’s apologists but the study he brought worked more for me than for him…… here the study that Walter brought and its implications that demonstrate the salary of Cuban farm worker in 1959 was higher that the salary of Cuban doctors today:

    I am very happy at you have decided to debate my comment…..
    The most castro defenders never dare to debate because ……. Well because this:

    You posted a link that guide us to…..” a reasonable place to examine the
    nature of rural society in Cuba pre 1959”…… well despite this link only
    illustrate the nature of the rural society in Cuba pre 1959 and we all know
    that Cuba pre 1959 was a non rural society but a semi industrial one with the
    most of the population living in cities, I will gladly use your link because in
    it we can find proves of what I said in my last comment….. Here is your link.

    And here
    is what I found in your link.

    “The 1946 Cuban agricultural census showed great disparities in family
    income distribution by farm size. There were 62,500 families with land holdings
    from 1 to 10 hectares and a monthly income of 37.54 pesos. 147,189 families
    with holdings from 10 to 100 hectares with averaged income of 69.86 pesos per
    month in income. The group with farm holdings above 1,000 hectares contained
    only 894 families with an average monthly income of 3,313.69 pesos (Valdés Paz, p. 32). It is obvious that the status of agricultural workers was not any
    better. As a matter of fact, according to the ACU study, the average monthly
    income of agricultural workers in 1956-1957 was 45.72 pesos (Gastón et al.,
    1957, p. 60).”

    This paragraph shows the huge difference between salaries before castro
    and after castro. Before castro the rate exchange between pesos and dollar was
    1 to 1…. Today is 1 to 28 !!!!!!!!

    Assuming that framers salaries today are same that farmers salaries
    before castro (what is not but today Cuban farmers salaries are much lower) we
    can easily calculate that the family with a monthly income of 37.54 before
    castro got at this time 37.54 dollars because the 1:1 exchange rate between
    pesos and dollars while same family gets today 1.34 dollar because the exchange rate 1:28 nowadays, the family that got 69.86 get today 2.45…… and ……..stop, because today we can’t find farmers in Cuba with more than 20
    hectares!!!!!……. But even this disparity is not real because the average monthly salary in Cuba today is 20.33 dollars/month. So, those farmers in Cuba before 1959 that this study analyzes had a very good life compared with today farmers. One because they earned much more money then today and second because the inflation rate was much lower then ….. 1.8% then…. 28% today!!!!!

    Cubans doctors monthly salaries today are 15-20 for general practitioner and 50-60 for specialists.

  • RogerMarero, if you wish to make such a definite and serious charge about a matter that obviously is if great concern to the author of this article and presumably to you and the readers, then you should not just lay out a claim that it is still happening at “a rate never seen before.” Are you saying you have some evidence other than a claim and anecdotes? The author didn’t presume to present a sociological statistic of homeless before 1959 and now. The author did eloquently express his compassion for those he saw years ago in such straights. I would guess he would be distressed to see it still so, but as yet he didn’t make anything like your claim. If you have evidence, please give it. If not, then apologize. Whatever numbers of people still need homes or better housing in Cuba, just throwing out claims doesn’t help. I have visited both some of the worst and best housing efforts in Cuba and I am not an expert and can’t make evidence based claims, but can say what I have seen. If anyone is interested, I would talk about my efforts to help, but really they are not the issue here. The issue I see is do we have compassion enough not to let bias or politics to blind us and do we have willingness to try to help, materially, not just words.

  • Unfortunately homeless and “wanderers” still running the street of Cuba to a rate never seeing before. Now the are call ‘palestino’ and they are no more than Cuban prohibited to have a legal residence whatever the choose to live. As is well known in Cuba housing is a chronic illness that the regimen is does not want to cure. Keeping people in there places of birth is a form of control.

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