HAVANA TIMES — The pension retirees receive here in Cuba is ridiculous. This claim is sweeping, but very true. Who can live on 400 pesos (20 usd) a month? And whoever has this much can give themselves a pat on the back, as my grandmother would say, because some people don’t even get 200 pesos.
The truth is that a large number of elderly people in their 60s receive this amount of money every month, a much too modest sum for those who have spent half, or even more than half of their lives, working.
Not too long ago, I was waiting in line at the agro-market and I heard two women talking about the subject. One of them claimed that her pension didn’t even last two days after she received it and that it “slipped” through her fingers like water. And what if prices of vegetables have gone up, or you have to buy eggs, or one or two extra pounds of rice because in her house their quota (the quantity of foodstuffs per person which are sold as part of the rations card supplies) wasn’t enough to feed them all, or you have to buy milk because you don’t have a “special diet” and have to buy it outside what the government sells you as rations… In short, a long list of missing things.
The other woman didn’t get left behind. Her list included, amongst other expenses: traveling to the doctors in a taxi because “who takes a guagua (bus)?”, buying medicines at the pharmacy, which are generally sold at an affordable price, although some very specific illnesses, such as heart disease for example, cost more of course, etc. And with the women debating, the long line at the agro and the unbearable heat of those days, I also thought about the salary ordinary Cubans on our island get and their imminent future. With the recent news of harder times to come.
The fact is that, if you take into account the aforementioned, it isn’t strange to find retired people who decide to carry on working after they should be retired. My parents for example, both still work. My mother helps an lady older than her in her house twice a week, that is to say she cleans, mops and washes anything that needs washing while my father fixes any electrical piece of equipment that falls into his hands, he paints or fixes window frames in the neighborhood or he helps my husband in any construction job his neighbor gives him.
It isn’t strange to find retired teachers in classrooms again, or as night guardians at centers near their homes. They also work as cleaning ladies, tailors and “fashion designers”, like those who use their time fixing and making adjustments to their immediate family’s and neighbors clothes.
There isn’t a shortage of people selling “Duro frío” (a kind of popsicle made without milk, more like a frozen juice), salt crackers, lollipops, sweets and a wide array of other handmade items. However, the saddest thing to see is a large number of people including the elderly who can’t continue to work, who don’t have any family nor receive any kind of help or who live on the streets.
To summarize, just when you think it’s time for you to rest, after half your life spent working so as to feed yourself, you have to keep on going… and going in order to continue surviving or living badly. If the subject of salaries were ever to be revised, pensions of our retired should be taken into account first. After all, they dedicated a good part of their lives to their country, don’t you think?