A Peso for a Tart: On Cuba’s Elderly

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.

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.

  • Your lie that the embargo is only marginally responsible for the nation-wide poverty is negated by all the experts in imperialism who run the policy and have for 54 years and who are keeping the embargo in place precisely because it has worked as intended in creating massive poverty.
    If it didn’t work you wouldn’t be supporting it
    Also: the possessive form of “it” is “its” . It does not have an apostrophe .
    You’re welcome .

  • Your comment that “things could be immensely worse” is poor solace to an empty Cuban stomach. The US embargo, at it’s worst, is a minor cause of Cuba’s economic woes. The lack of exports and low worker productivity are Cuba’s greatest problems and both of these issues are far removed from any impact the US embargo has had on Cuba.

  • And things could be immensely worse were Cuba to capitulate and give in to the 54 year old U.S. demand that Cuba return to feral capitalism .
    In neo-liberal capitalist countries of similar or equal economic conditions but absent the crushing 54-year old U.S. embargo the very poor starve to death.
    No post or article dealing with poverty in Cuba can be accurate or, more importantly, honest without
    mentioning the U.S. embargo .
    It worked to create the poverty intended .
    It failed to cause the Cuban people to reject their revolution. and so they struggle

  • Good one Jorge! Hope things get better my friend. It’s easy for us in the States to give opinions but you have to carry the torch. Stay strong and Nunca te rindas!

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