Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Hard times. Photo: Juan Suarez
Hard times for a growing number of elderly in Havana.  Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The silver-haired woman slowly nears the entrance to the coffee shop. A fine mesh of wrinkles cover her face, her old garments, thrown carelessly on, are creased.

She holds a bag and cane in one hand and looks for something with the other, but can’t find it. She can’t find two pesos to buy a tart with.

The bag becomes her last hope. She puts it close to her face and sticks her hand inside, pulling out a cracked leather coin purse. She rifles through its contents insistently. Her quivering hand finds old buttons, stamps, hair pins and receipts, all of which she lays on the counter.

Her shaking and desperation swell. There’s nothing there. She collects her things. Before she was done, I’d understood the situation clearly. I’d been in a similar situation before. “Look, m’am, buy yourself two tarts,” I say, handing her 4 pesos.

Her frail hand takes the money. She looks at me and says: “Thank you.”

Somewhat embarrassed, she asks for the tarts. She now has the money to pay for them. “One tart, please,” she says with a quivering, fading voice.

“Thanks, son. Very few people help others these days. They turn their backs, not knowing they could be in the same situation one day.”

I am moved by this all-too-common situation I run into in Havana, where elderly people go around the city unable to buy even a sweet, the only thing they can afford most times.

Some neighborhoods have soup kitchens where they can have breakfast and lunch, at very low prices. But we can’t simply forget about those who live alone and go out in search of a simple sweet or any kind of food, and those who have even lost their sense of direction because of their advanced age. These situations are worthy of attention.


Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.

7 thoughts on “A Peso for a Tart: On Cuba’s Elderly

  • John,

    It is the SYSTEM….! Venezuela does not even have a full flegded Cuban system or an embargo and look at its economy crashing. Why do you think VietNam and China threw socialist planned economy out of the window?

  • Please provide a link sourcing even one objective and credible “expert in imperialism” that ascribes Cuba’s economic morass entirely to the US embargo. I support the embargo because it serves to encourage democratic reforms. I assert that it should remain in place until the conditions set forth in the Helms-Burton are met. You should be a 8th grade English teacher. Political Science is not in your wheelhouse.

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