Forsaken in Havana, the Wonder City

Irina Pino

Retired woman rumaging in the trash. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Leaving the city of Santa Clara at the young age of fourteen, this octogenarian – an illustrious figure in the eyes of his family – would settle definitively in Havana, a destination recently declared one of the world’s “wonder cities.”

He lived on Cuarteles street, in a poor neighborhood, with an aunt who had become his guardian (his mother had passed away when he was small). Separated from his siblings, he forged character and learned not to depend on anyone.

He went to a public school, where he finished high school. He was a fisherman, vendor at a fried snacks stand and a founding employee of Cuba’s INIT, today the Ministry of Tourism. He worked as an errands boy, printer, binder and machine technician. Then, he started at the Banners and Electric Signs department of Publicitur, installing advertisements in luxury hotels across the city and its surroundings.

Finally, he became the manager of a printing press. Power, however, never went to his head. Straight and honest, he would humbly take on any task assigned him. A member of a popular militia and sugarcane worker, he was always a friend to other workers, helping them improve at their work unconditionally. In the 1970s, his merits earned him a tour of different countries in the former socialist bloc.

He married and had three kids. He never did earn a very high salary, but, thanks to his personal efforts and extra hours of work, he was able to lead a decorous life. Before retiring, an ill-intentioned workmate questioned the fact he was given a work incentive (a fridge). They never even considered giving him a car. The union replied with a flimsy defense, and the household appliance was finally given him. His farewell was said and without honors. He still keeps two medals in a drawer: one for participating in Cuba’s 1960 literacy campaign and another for his outstanding years of service at work.

After 40 or 50 years of working for the State, and many volunteer campaigns, a not so small segment of Cuban retirees receive a pension of between 10 and 15 USD a month. Photo: Juan Suarez

He now receives a lackluster pension of 270 pesos (13.50 USD), with which he barely manages to buy some beans, root vegetables and a bit of meat. His home, which he paid for over thirty years, collapsed because of a neighbor’s stupidity – and because it hadn’t been repaired since the 1920s. When his home was demolished, they didn’t even offer the old man a place to stay. He had to go live at his youngest daughter’s.

A letter requesting a place to live was addressed to an official. The letter went in circles and ended up in a bureaucratic trunk somewhere, ultimately returning to square one. Another letter addressed to the Minister of Tourism (where he had laid his stepping stone) met with another typical reply: “We do not have any available properties.” As he is a retired person, he is no longer a priority and is devoid of hope. Insultingly, a “tourism official” moved into an empty house across his daughter’s place.

Havana, that marvel city, turns its back on one of its children, an illustrious figure in the eyes of his family – an eighty-six-year-old man who no longer owns anything but his memories.

2 thoughts on “Forsaken in Havana, the Wonder City

  • The “wonder” in Havana is that the impoverished (most people) haven’t risen up and hanged the Castros and others who live so comfortably off their misery. Could the commissars at least organize construction crews to build decent housing for the people who need it? Granted, there’s little work ethic in tropical Cuba as we know it in the US and capitalism is not permitted because of ideology. But even Stalinists should agree on a base line of human existence and make it happen.

  • The cheapest thing in Cuba is human labour. That is a direct consequence of the Socialismo policies of the Castro family regime. As their constitution says:
    “Work is a right and a duty.” Unlike the free capitalist societies there is no political wish or policy by the regime to improve the living standards of the people. At 86 this man serves no useful purpose other than adding to the expectancy of life statistics. Such is the consequence of Che Guevara’s policy of “the new man”, one which was copied from Josef Stalin. Socialismo policy is poverty, keep all the people in conditions where they are unable to invoke change.

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