Cuban Men and the Physical Effects of Workplace Negligence

By Nike

HAVANA TIMES – For a few years now, I’ve been observing the men in my country – fathers, some of whom I know and others who live in my town. One thing they all have in common is that they walk with a certain level of difficulty. Many use a cane to walk. These men are of different ages, but the average seems to be over 40.

One neighbor worked in construction for ten years, under very poor conditions. Without using any protective gear, he pushed wheelbarrows full of cement sacks, sand, or bricks. He did this to assure his right to live in an apartment constructed by the micro-brigades for himself and his family.

Such work with no protective measures caused him wear and tear on the spine that would affect him for the rest of his life. Now, he’s constantly in need of physical therapy at the polyclinic, and the only job he’s able to do is that of night security guard at a daycare center.

At the early age they begin to work, these Cuban men don’t notice the way they’re mistreating their bodies, due to their youthful inexperience. The majority don’t use any protective measures: they don’t know about them, nor is there any equipment available in the workplaces. Also, there’s no cultural awareness or acceptance of this issue.

When these young workers reach full adulthood, they begin to suffer from back pain or lumbago. Many continue working anyway, relying on anti-inflammatory pills or painkillers, or physical therapy to bear up. In extreme cases, they reach the point where they need a spinal operation to be able to walk and continue working.

I know a lot of such cases. One friend worked for many years in a bookstore where every day he had to carry a large quantity of books with no protection or other measures. He didn’t think about this, since he had little experience. Also, there was no one at his workplace who could advise him how to protect his back.

Now he’s 50 years old. He ended up with sciatic pain so severe that he spends up to six months in bed, unable to walk and in tremendous pain. At the moment, he’s in bed, and since no medications are available in the country, he’s left to endure the pain.

I’m the only one who can help him by bringing him some anti-inflammatory plant infusions which aid somewhat, until he receives some pills that his friends and family outside the country send him. In this case, a disc hernia is being formed and physical therapy could help him improve greatly, without the need of an operation.

Another friend works on a dredge in the Port of Havana. At 55, he can’t lift even minimal weight. For example, the other day he cleaned his yard, and the next day he was in bed.

I could list many cases of young men who are already this way, and of other older men who did different types of work and now have damaged their spines for life.

What’s needed is some awareness of the issue from the time people are children and teens – in the homes, in school and later in the workplaces, so that people are well informed about the importance of posture and the measures they should take when lifting certain kinds of weight, or carrying heavy objects. They should also be made aware of not straining beyond their possibilities, so as not to injure themselves.  That way, they could enjoy a healthier life with their families, and not suffer these terrible problems that can be avoided.

The main problem, though, is that the Cuban I know, and almost all – not to say all – the men in my country, believe they’re as strong as Caupolican, the Mapuche warrior who led his people against the Spanish conquistadores in Chile.

Read more from Nike’s diary here.


I was born in Havana, Cuba. All my life I have had the sea as a landscape. I like being close to it, feeling its breeze, its smell, as well as swimming and enjoying the wonders it gives us. Thanks to the manual skill that I inherited from my parents, I have been able to live off crafts. I work primarily papier-mâché, making puppets for children. I write for Havana Times for the possibility of sharing with the world the life of my country and my people.

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One thought on “Cuban Men and the Physical Effects of Workplace Negligence

  • These are men in every country. Carpet installers, rebar workers, concrete and cement workers.

    I know men in Canada with blown knees, sciatica, lung cancer from asbestos, etc.

    The difference in my country, when the men start to break, their wives leave them and take all their stuff. Not only that, the men are on the hook for spousal support for years and years and if they don’t pay the support, they go to jail.

    Society treats men like garbage. Some of us break the cycle and …. Go to Cuba. See you soon amigos.

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