Street Children: a Disgrace for Humanity Nonexistent in Cuba

Elio Delgado Legon

Street children in a Latin American country. The real face of capitalism. Photo taken from mundopoesí

HAVANA TIMES — During a cold winter in the Southern hemisphere, in 1973, I was in Santiago de Chile and I would watch, from the window of the hotel I was staying at, a group of children huddle around a bonfire, trying to keep themselves warm, as temperatures would fall below zero degrees Celsius at night.  These were the so-called street children, who, in spite of President Salvador Allende’s efforts to improve social conditions in Chile, continued to exist.

That same year, after I’d returned to Cuba, and during the Cuban winter, I went to a friend’s birthday party in Havana, where I stayed until about midnight. To get home, I had to walk through four of Havana’s neighborhoods and it was a little chilly that night. I then remembered my visit to Santiago de Chile and the scenes I saw of street children. However, this time, in Havana, I didn’t see a single child on the street my whole way home. They were all sleeping in their homes because they had to wake up early the following day to go to school.

The memory of those two immensely different realities has come to my mind again after I saw some photographs of street children and I’ve tried to find statistics about this phenomenon in UNICEF reports and on the current situation of children in Cuba who have no family or home.

Throughout all of Cuba’s provinces, there are state-run insitutions called “homes for children without a family home”, where children and teenagers are given similar living conditions to those of a loving home. The main reasons for entering one of these centers are either being an orphan or abandoned and therefore, these children lack family love and care which they receive from center employees, who treat them as if they were their own children. These kids go to schools which correspond to the neighborhood they live in and have full access to public healthcare, just like any other Cuban child.

When they turn 18 years old, these young people leave the Home and go to live in housing given to them by the Government’s Administration Council in the municipality they live in while the Ministry of Labor has to find them a job.

That’s why there are no street children in any city here in Cuba. Meanwhile, statistics provided by UNICEF on the global phenomenon are spine chilling. Up until three years ago, reports revealed that there were between 100-150 million street children in the world. Although there haven’t been any recent reports to confirm the exact number of street children worldwide, the number must have increased drastically if we take into account the wars promoted by Imperialism, the results of terrorism and the spreading of the AIDs epidemic in Africa.

Children celebrate Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday at a home for children without a family home, in Cuba.  Photo:
Children celebrate Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday at a home for children without a family home, in Cuba. Photo:

Searching for information on UNICEF’s website, I found an advert which was asking for donations to help street children. I also saw an advert on Spanish CNN some time ago, where you could see children dressed in rags, their faces dirty and sadness in their eyes whilst they they launched the following appeal: help street children.

I don’t doubt that the intention of both of these campaigns was good; however, their direction is misguided. You can’t help street children with spare change; you help them with governments’ political will. They shouldn’t be asking for us to help street children, but asking themselves, why do street children exist?

The answer is simple: they exist and will always exist as long as neoliberal capitalism and governments who are insensitive to the evils of society exist which continue to fill the world’s streets with small children dressed in rags with a sadness in their eyes, a real disgrace for humanity.

Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.

36 thoughts on “Street Children: a Disgrace for Humanity Nonexistent in Cuba

  • A May 4, 2016 article in Cosmopolitan reported how Cuban police removed homeless from Havana Square in preparation for an art show.

    So while I am sure that Cuba has fewer homeless than other Latin American countries, I am equally sure the picture isn’t as rosy as you paint it. And that the Cuban police are careful to clear the homeless out of public areas so the tourists won’t see them.

  • This was taken from a 2017 article in Cosmopolitan Magazine (online):

    Cuban blogger and journalist Yoani Sánchez reported that for the past few days, in preparation for the show, Cuban police had been clearing the homeless seeking refuge in Havana Square, where the fashion show took place.

  • Terry, I recall the Head of the Asian Languages Department of the University of Toronto saying:
    “A degree in sociology is a degree in wishful thinking.”
    That obviously also applies to socialist adherents. The wishful thinking of Dani, yourself and ‘pipefitter’ is indicative of the truth of that professor’s analysis. You wish to deny the fact that children beg on the streets of Cuba and have for that reason developed wilful blindness. They are there!
    I have never said or implied that all things in Cuba are bad, I have frequently in these columns expressed my admiration for the people of Cuba and for the beauty of the island. My criticisms are related to the totalitarian state which has been imposed upon those good people by the Castro communist regime.
    I am unable to ignore the reality of life in Cuba for the Cuban people or to develop that wilful blindness which has been adopted by others. I cannot just ignore that which has been imposed by “socialismo” as it affects my wife and extended family and my God-daughter. To me they are important and I hope as indeed they do, that they may yet experience freedom.

  • Carlyle, as I’ve often suspected of you, you’re really quite delusional with your constant speculation about all things being bad in Cuba… and now you’re also speculating about me too… unbelievable. Carlyle, why not just simply admit that you’re sometimes a bit over zealous with your broad-brush statements about “how it really is” in Cuba? Truth be told, it’s obvious that you really don’t know as much about Cuba as your delusional ego has you believing.

  • I can second that Terry, I worked in Cuba for 3 and a half years and have never been approached by a child asking for anything. Anyone can see that Cubans always keep their children well fed and well dressed above all else.

  • Blue eyes are apparently superior for you. I am making factual statement. Maybe you are not approached Terry because you look even more down and out than most Cubans? Go and sit by the bronze man reading ‘Granma’ in the Plaza de Carmen, you know, the fellow just along from the group of chatting ladies. Even better, go and visit the zoo.

  • I second that. I remember my first visit to Cuba in 1993, during the height of the Special Period, you would encounter a couple kids a day asking for “Chickles”. But nothing like the unhealthy, desperate looking kids I’ve seen elsewhere in Latin America. As far as sleeping on the streets, yes I’ve seen that too, but it is far from common, and most of the men you see appear likely to just be sleeping off a “juma”. I see more people sleeping in the streets of Philadelphia, in the cold, than in Havana, which is incredible when you think of it.

  • Carlyle, you’re so full of it your eyes are brown! I’ve been living part-time in Camagüey for several years and not ONCE have I ever been approached by a child asking me for anything! NOT ONCE! You have no credibility on this subject. Get a life, man! You’re absolutely full of it!

  • As I wrote above Ken, any homeless children found on the streets are picked up by MININT. Their numbers are reflected in Elio’s article. These homeless children have been institutionalised.
    As Elio points out, “Throughout all of Cuba’s provinces there are state run institutions”
    Why are so many necessary?

  • I do believe that you know a great deal about Cuba. That probably explains why you were unwilling to directly challenge Elio’s contention that there are no homeless children in Cuba.

  • If I have a degree of blindness, then you have a degree of politically motivated delusion. That kind of insult goes nowhere and has no place here. I have an open mind and am quite happy to revise my views if you provide evidence to back up your claims that there are a huge number of children begging on every town and city in Cuba.

  • I think Griffin that you intended your comment for Dani. I as recorded above, am only too aware of children begging on the streets of Cuba, it is Dani who apparently has a degree of blindness.

  • Nope. I work right in the centre.

  • Where do the institutionalised children come from? They have been picked up by MININT on the streets because they are homeless. I might agree with you that they are better where they are than roaming the streets and I can vouch that most if not all of the all too numerous children begging on the streets have ‘homes’ and families. Like those numerous Cubans who depend upon purloining commodities from their employer (the state or GAESA) and selling on the Mercado negra, it is a source of income. As one who walks daily through residential streets, I could actually show you homes where such children live. I do know Ken of what I speak.

  • Occurring daily isn’t “extensive”?

  • My views are entirely a consequence of daily living in Cuba, I have no need to take the views of the UN the representatives of which cajole with the Castro regime, or independent NGOs both of which have had absolutely no effect upon the Castro regimes repression of Cubans.
    You try to sneer about a closed mind being of the opinion that inexperienced observers paying short visits to Havana are qualified to give “credible evidence”.
    You say that you stayed at a “rental” (casa particular) on Cristo, my memory is that there are several on the east side of the street. If you look on the west side, you will observe a so-called re-cycling ‘depot’ and at night you will find garbage scavengers with their gleanings for the day, sleeping on cardboard to wait for the ‘depot’ to open in the morning.
    Don’t bother Dani to try to instruct me about Cuba. Obviously either your UK residence or your place of work is in a none too salubrious area and I sympathize.

  • So you can’t cope with credible evidence by respected and independent NGOs and United Nations bodies with expertise in the sphere. That truly is the definition of a closed mind.

    Funnily enough I stayed for a week at a rental on Calle Cristo and didn’t once trip over anyone stretched out on the pavement. But what is your point. There are people sleeping on the streets in every big city all over the world. I pass about seven every day on my way to work.

  • In Barcelona, and other cities, there are children who work as professional beggars, forced to do so by abusive parents. It’s a horrible tragedy.

  • You are willfully blind. While in Cuba, I was approached by children and pensioners begging for money. I don’t know where these people sleep at night, but from the look of their clothes & dirty faces it couldn’t have been very nice.

    I do agree with you the situation of homeless children is far worse in many other counties in Latin America, but child poverty is still a problem in Cuba.

    It exists.

  • Certainly ever decent person will agree, child poverty is a terrible blight. They deserve help from society, either through charities or government agencies.

    However, the question Elio does not ask is whether it is necessary for citizens to surrender all of their human rights & freedoms in order to allow their government to eliminate such poverty & neglect? That is the deal he and other Castro supporters seems to have accepted in Cuba.

    I say it is not necessary. Many countries provide care and support to the poor, without depriving their entire populations of rights & freedoms.

    Furthermore, given that Cuba has no free press, no investigative reporters, and strict limits on free speech, how would Elio and anybody else in Cuba know for sure there are no poor children in Cuba? To say there are would be to criticize the Castro brothers, which is a crime severely punished in Cuba.

  • I prefer to write and to talk about the reality of Cuba rather than statistics produced by the Castro regime. Your credibility is within your own mind! I accept that I was in error in writing Obispo – I was actually referring to Cristo. It you go due west from La Muralla on Calle Muralla, you will find Cristo on your right hand seven streets along. There you will find people sleeping on cardboard on the sidewalk.
    I did not change the subject from children. Children are to be found begging on the streets in virtually every town and city in Cuba. So your self-righteousness is misplaced!
    It is correct that MININT employees remove children found sleeping on the streets to place them in the facilities described in the article and where they can be subjected to the educational system the defined purpose of which is indoctrination (reference the Constitution of Cuba).

  • if Elio had said that no Cuban children live in poverty, many would have disagreed. But as for his statement that no Cuban children are homeless, few are willing to disagree.

  • As I say above I would be a magnet for children begging, but it hasn’t happened. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist just that it isn’t that extensive. It hasn’t happened to me in the UK either, but in comparison 25 years ago in Barcelona it happened on a fairly regular basis.

  • Typical – you ignore all the statistical evidence in order to concentrate your attack my credibility. No I’ve never gone on any guided tour and I have walked many of the streets in Cuba including Calle Obisbo after 10pm. As I have been mostly on my own and look very north European I would be a magnet for any children begging. And I didn’t notice anybody sleeping on cardboard on the pavement, but it is noticeable that you have changed the subject from children sleeping rough to people generally.

  • There are many under housed and under fed people in Cuba today. I talked to a doctor who told me about a16 year gild who lived wit her 9 year brother in a plywood shack and went looking in the garbage for food.

  • Dani, you say that you have not seen a single child begging for money on the streets in Cuba. That is a quite remarkable statement as children doing so is commonplace around the country, so your time walking those streets must have been very limited – unless you were with a guided tourist group.
    You can find people sleeping on the streets in Cuba. In Havana if you go to Osbispo Street in Old Havana after about 10 p.m., you will observe some sleeping on cardboard on the sidewalk (pavement in England).

  • You and I read the same article. Cuban children do not need to be homeless, to live in poverty with the rest of their family. Have you viewed the ancient wooden shacks with paper stuffed in holes to try and prevent the wind and rain entering? Have you watched those barefooted children playing in the streets? Oh yes, they have the uniform for school, but their parents have to scrimp and save to purchase them from their incomes of around $20 per month.

  • OK, fair enough. If you had meant to say that children in Cuba are homeless, you would have said so clearly. And since you did not say this I can conclude that you do not believe there are homeless children in Cuba.

  • You must have had your eyes closed. There are not as many as you see elsewhere in Latin America but they are there.

  • Total rubbish. I haven’t seen a single child sleeping on the streets or begging for money in Cuba. But don’t take my word, let’s look at some facts. There are between 20 and 50 million homeless children in Latin America gives a list of countries with severe problems in this area. Between 200,000 and 8 million in Brazil, 100,000 – 2 million in Mexico. The number is so insignificant in Cuba that they don’t mention it. Lets look at another site Here Cuba comes 19th in the world, above every other country in Latin America (eg Colombia is 60th) and higher than a number of first world countries.

  • I say what I mean and I mean what I say.

  • How it was that Cuban coastguard killed 10 children on board of a raft trying to flee from Cuba. Their faces are posted in this good site: visit it and gets the truth.

  • Carlyle, do you mean to say that the children you have described are sleeping on the streets?

  • Why Elio, do those who have ‘loving homes’ have to beg for money on the streets of Cuba?
    I see barefooted children playing in the streets (no sports fields) using a stone wrapped in cloth as a ball and a wooden stick as a bat.
    The only housing I see being built are for MININT employees.
    I note with interest that in the picture of children in a home, there is a large photograph of Fidel Castro in his prime, not in his dotage. But you would deny that there is a cult of the personality!
    You ask in your article: “Why do street children exist?” Ask Fidel Castro!

  • éNon-existent in Cuba”: after losing their homes lots of children sleep in the streets in Cuba.
    Lots of minors are sold in prostitution.
    Cubans don’t go to live in “housing provided by the government” at 18. People go to “alberques” in subhuman conditions. Cuba has a deficiency of housing with a need of 500,000 houses built or renovated. Various generations live one house.
    This article is a disgrace.

  • In 1973 Elio had the previlege to travel abroad when no other cuban except those that had the trust of the dictadura. Now I understand his tiresome efforts to spread the Castro’s propaganda.

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