Cuba: No Country for the Elderly

Warhol P

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Some days ago, I was thinking about the inevitable passage of time and, after a very simple calculation, concluded I would turn 50 in 10 years. In 20, if I haven’t died of a heart attack (the main cause of death among men in Cuba), I will have turned 60 and become, as they say, a senior citizen.

By chance, I ran into my friend and colleague Veronica Vega at a stop of the P11 bus, bound for the neighborhood of Alamar. The trip is tedious and unpleasant, and there’s nothing better than having someone to converse with on the way over.

We talked about the rise in the price of powdered milk, the positive and negative aspects of the Cuban film Conducta (“Conduct”), about Internet and our limited connection, which hasn’t improved with the installation of Venezuela’s fiber-optic cable, and, finally, got to the issue of the elderly. Veronica mentioned something I’d never noticed (which is understandable, as I am still a young man).

She pointed out to me that crossing an avenue was something nearly impossible for an old person, as the streetlights go green for only 15 seconds and thoroughfares are usually very wide (to the point that even young people have to walk briskly across). “No one thinks about the elderly here,” she said. Thinking about what she said, I realized it’s true.

It dawned on me that an elderly person would be unable to stand in line at Havana’s Coppelia ice-cream parlor for long, or go out to buy potatoes, because the long lines of people and squabbles that take place at the market would be too much for them.

To get any kind of medication, an old person who has no one to look after them must go to a doctor’s office to get a prescription and arm themselves with plenty of patience, as one must wait a long time to get seen by the physician.

Many a time, I’ve seen an elderly man or woman be left behind at a bus stop because they were unable to get on the bus. Everyone knows about Cuba’s transportation situation. One has to be on guard all the time and be aggressive to board a bus, and this is impossible for many old people – we must recall that many have physical issues, rely on walking sticks to get around and, to make matters more complicated, can’t see very well.

We live in a time in which it’s every man for himself and, by the looks of it the elderly don’t have many things going for them right now.

I read somewhere that Cuba is a country of elderly and that it is governed by old men (the latter, of course, do enjoy a good quality of life).

The population is gradually aging: couples don’t want to have more than one child, because of the economic problems we all know (housing, nutrition, a long list of problems with no solution in sight yet).

It remains to be seen whether, 20 years from now, things will look any brighter for the young and my generation – and for me, who, in a not-so-distant future, will be an old geezer.

2 thoughts on “Cuba: No Country for the Elderly

  • Thank you for the link.

    When I visiting Havana for the first time, the tour bus dropped us off at Centro Park. While the tour guides extolled the marvels of the Revolution, having little stomach for propaganda, I drifted away from the group. Soon I was approached by a bedraggled, shrunken figure dressed in little more than rags. All she said to me was, “peso, peso, peso?” It was hard to determine her precise age, her deeply tanned skin was so wrinkled, but clearly she was a pensioner.

    I gave her a few pesos and took her photograph. A police immediately strutted up and chased her off.

    Welcome to Havana!

  • While the author does clearly mention the logistical problems most elderly face, he didn’t mention the financial trouble they face. With pensions from 140 to 240 CUP one can’t live. The main social safety net in Cuba for the elderly is the family. Given housing shortages various generations often live in the same house. local family member help elderly relatives in all aspects of life like ensuring they have food and get to doctors appointments. Relatives abroad send the money needed to survive and arrive with gifts of clothing, medicines, … when they visit.

    Those that suffer most in Cuba are the elderly that don’t or no longer have any family to help out or that have a family that doesn’t care. they bare the full financial and logistical brunt of living in Cuba. They try to remain at home as long as possible often sitting in the dark and unable to pay for electricity to cook and run a refrigerator. All fear the “casa de ancianos” – retirement homes as the situation in these is notoriously bad.

    In 2004 French journalist Michel Faure wrote his widely known article about the old folks home in Cuba. He called them “mouroirs” (1), a denigrating (places to die) term referring to bad hospices. His summary: Abuse, inadequate food … homes for the elderly are similar to prisons.

    In more than one way Cuba is no country for the elderly.

    (1) “Les mouroirs de Cuba”, Par par Michel Faure et , publié le 12/07/2004
    Source: Les mouroirs de Cuba – L’EXPRESS –

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