HAVANA TIMES — When my father died just before the age of 86, a friend said to me: “At least he had a good life. He had children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who loved him.” What she said left me thinking and made me look back at certain episodes in his life.
An orphan, he came to live in Havana and began working at the age of 14, as an errand boy for INTUR, the current Ministry of Tourism. He moved up the ladder there and became the manager of its printing house. He also worked in publicity, designing billboards and lit-up signs.
During his long life, he was a member of the People’s militia, a sugar-cane worker and a celebrated member of volunteer work brigades. Ultimately, he gave his all for things that were never acknowledged. He never got a car, even though he deserved one. During his youth, they only gave him a trip to socialist countries as an incentive, a trip he would look back on as something very important for him. It was the only positive thing he took away from all of his efforts.
He had two medals: one for his work in the literacy campaign and another for being an outstanding employee. He was to face privation all his life. When he retired (with a pension under 300 Cuban pesos, less than 15 usd) he was quickly forgotten and no one took notice of him anymore. He became entirely devoted to his family, the handy man, and, if he didn’t know how to do something, he’d find out. He would sell cigarettes and clean pressure cookers to make a bit of money.
When I had my son, he moved to my place to help me on a full time basis. He would do the chores around the house without any kind of prejudice. He was my right hand man. We got along very well. We shared a taste in literature, he was a seasoned reader.
In his old age, he suffered a stroke and his living conditions deteriorated. He would only read and watch television. But he kept abreast of things with the news, he was interested in information. Sports was another passion of his.
The home I was born in had a partial collapse in 2011. Luckily, he was in my house at the time. They demolished the place and he was left without a house. My family was never offered a transitory home for him.
It’s ironic that, after asking the Ministry of Tourism for help with a letter explaining my father’s situation, a letter detailing his background as an exemplary employee, we got a simple reply: we do not have homes to give. In one fell swoop, a human being who had devoted himself wholeheartedly to that ministry was forgotten. A life omitted, a name erased because of society’s indifference.