Maria Matienzo Puerto

Cuban woman. Photo: Jim Ziemer

HAVANA TIMES, Dic 2 — Ana Marta is 63 and feels tired. Tired of so many years of “working for nothing,” tired of so much “struggling without seeing the future,” she told me two days ago.

When in early 2009 the Revolution called on her to remain in her job, she accepted – or, in her words, she “stepped up to the plate.”

When she was a teenager, the Revolution asked her to take part in the nation’s literacy campaign, so — despite the sexist fussing of her parents — she literally headed for the hills to teach campesinos how to read and write.

Years later, whenever the Revolution called upon people to take part in the sugarcane harvest or other agricultural work, she never hesitated to “step up to that same old plate.”

Ana Marta participated in military mobilizations against imminent attacks from the United States, which never came, and on more than one occasion she left her children in the care of someone else because the Revolution demanded her presence.

So when the Revolution — faced with an aging Cuban workforce — asked her not to retire, she didn’t have to think twice.

Actually she did more. When her job at the Ministry of Construction organized assemblies to approve the new Social Security Act requiring women to retire at the age of 60 (instead of 55), she was there to lead by example.

The toll this all takes on the average Cuban woman has never mattered. Coming up with something to eat, clothing and transportation can easily turn into neuroses, arthritis or migraines. This is why by fifty, many Cuban women look a century old.

But Ana Marta — so uncompromising, even with herself — didn’t want to face reality. In less than a year, the atmosphere on the island has become even more rarefied.

The euphemism that’s used when referring to unemployment is “worker availability.” This is the state Ana Marta will soon find herself in, collecting a less than a meager pension and abandoned in her micro-brigade apartment, which she was granted after having worked 10 years in construction.

Sure, this woman hadn’t said anything to anyone, not like she’s admitting to me now. But the truth is that she really couldn’t have thought about retiring because she doesn’t have anyone to help her out in her old age.

On more than one occasion she has found herself without even soap for taking a bath and with hardly anything to eat. She had no way of planning her life beyond the absolute immediate, the day to day.

In this silent whirlwind in which she exists, she of course lost the confidence of her children. They chose destinies outside the island.

After a tortuous wait, Ana has had her worst fears confirmed. “Now I need to think of giving way to next generation,” she almost whispers.

Ana said the words from her supervisor were the signal: “You’re no longer indispensable.”

She knows that in January the process of identifying “available workers” will recommence at her job. She knows that she’ll be left with no alternative other than to start the paperwork for her retirement.


Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

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