Paula Henriquez

Family. Photo: Juan Suarez

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?

Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez: Since childhood I have been told I should be careful what I say in public. "Think before you speak, especially in front of others," my mother would say, and it was more of a plea than a scolding. Even today I hear her and I obey her, just that I do not speak, I write. Letters and words are my escape, my exit and daily catharsis, which printed on paper, revive me. And this picture is my refuge.

25 thoughts on “Retirement on a Shoestring

  • Firstly you should know that it is offensive to call the North American native people “Red Indians”.

    Secondly I have son-in-law who is a Cree.
    Thirdly, I have had the pleasure of dining by invitation with the Chief of the Blackfoot (whose Great-Grandfather Crowfoot signed Treaty Seven) and the Chief of the Sarcees – both of whom are qualified lawyers.
    Fourthly I had for several years a friendship with the Chief of the Bloods (the Bloods have dual US/Canadian citizenship) and have been an invited guest on the Blood Reserve, (Roy’s wife is the daughter of Canada’s first native Senator Gladstone) the largest in Canada stretching 100 km.
    Fifthly, I was invited by the Council of Chiefs (13 Bands) of the Northern part of Saskatchewan to address the them upon economic tourism opportunities for their people.
    Sixth, I was invited to address the annual Native Agricultural Conference of Alberta at Slave Lake.

    And you Sir, have the temerity to endeavour to correct me about the native people of North America?

    My wife is black, so don’t try to correct me about the racism of Cuba and the State Police in Havana acting under the Castro dictatorship. Have you read in these pages what I wrote about Paul Robeson?

    It did not require the communists of Russia to introduce votes for women, it already applied in other countries.

    You try to smear me by accusing me of sympathizing with the Batista dictatorship when on several occasions in these very pages I have stated my view that dictatorship is evil – whether it be of the right, I have used Pinochet and Batista as examples, or of the left where I have used Fidel and Raul Castro as examples.

    I am married, have three daughters and a step-daughter and two grand-daughters. You Sir, try to smear me personally by suggesting that I would approve the enslavement of little school girls to work in brothels. Doing so, is an indication of the depth of your depravity, ignorance and appalling bad manners. Perhaps you have made too personal many visits to Thailand.

    You write of people being taught to read following the 1917 revolution in Russia. In 1697, the Scottish Parliament under a capitalist system, introduced free education for everybody and the four Scottish Universities all established by 1500 provided free education. I know!

    You obviously have failed to read my posts about spies and the so-called unsuccessful ‘Cuban Five’ who got caught! To say that the Cuban Five were not professional spies employed by the Director of Intelligence in MININT is flatly a display of ignorance. Who do you think paid them? Who do you think trained them? Are you able to illustrate that the DI of MININT General Alejandro Castro Espin has not received training in Moscow? Do you really think that Nikolai Leonov of the KGB was merely on holiday when he met with Raul Castro in April 1953 in the USSR, then again in Mexico in 1955/56 and then as the USSR ‘Man in Havana. in 1959? Why and how do you think that Leonov was able to write the biography of Raul Castro Ruz? It is a factual statement that the East German Stasi trained MININT staff for the administration of the CDR.

    Take a bit more care Kennedy Earle Clarke in the future before allowing your heightened level of adrenalin to take over control of your mind!

  • “How you like them apples?” is a typical English expression, used in the UK, Canada & the US. It means “What do you think of that?”, and implying you got badly bruised by the facts presented.

    I’m surprised you didn’t understand that idiom, Dani. Where do you live?

  • OK Kennedy I think you have said enough for this post, which is about every day Cuba on the ground from one Cuban’s perspective, moving far from the subject of the original post as you often do.

  • My very good friend Carlyle, You must be very careful about what you write; Doctors who are trained in Cuba have specialized in America and the Cuban education is highly respected over there. Kindly educate me, “Is the Black man in America highly indoctrinated by the education he receives for, when he leaves school, he has no hope; he is expected to obtain the lowest jobs. Is he educated to think that he is the equal of the white man? What kind of education do you give to the Red Indians who are the original owners of the land?

    Do you praise them for fighting to retain ownership of their land? Do you educate them about the many treaties the white man signed with them and how many times the same white man tore up those treaties? Why have the Red Indians referred to you Americans as the man with the forked tongue? How dare you talk about INDOCTRINATION, Brother?

    Anywhere in the world the Cubans migrate, their standard of education is praised. Look at how they have maintained those vehicles of the 1930’s,1940;s? And you say that these people who were kept illiterate under Batista are indoctrinated? IF the Castro’s are a tyrannical dictatorship and they have produced so many Doctors, so many engineers, so many other professionals in Cuba and in the Third World, how do you rate Batista who kept his people 70% illiterate?

    What a tirade my brother? Let me inform you of an historical event which changed the world! It was the 1917 Russian Revolution which took little children out of the coal pits and the goldmines; it was the Russian Revolution which introduced holiday with pay; it was the Russian Revolution which gave women the right to vote. It was the Russian Revolution which gave women equal pay with men, It was the Russian Revolution which introduced Maternity Leave FOR WOMEN. NOT THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM.


    It is the socialist system of the Revolution which taught people to read; the young students who could read, went around at afternoons and taught those who could not read. This programme was dubbed, “YES YOU CAN!” and was used in other countries which had adopted Socialism to eliminate illiteracy, for the capitalist system will never introduce free education for all of it citizens from kindergarten to University! The Cuban Five were never professional spies. TERRORIST attacks from Miami were constantly made on Cuban territory. It was more than Five but the others developed cold feet but the Five went through with their service.

    The Five reported to their country about what they discovered. The Cuban Government then alerted the American Government about what was happening on its soil.Instead of arresting the terrorists they arrested the Cuban Five. Why is the wolrd respecting these men? Why are they invited to other countries to be honoured and to tell their story? Ye shall know the TRUTH for, only the TRUTH shall set you free!

  • Sadly the fruit producing season for the mango tree that overhangs our home is over. We will have to wait now until towards the end of next April before going up onto the roof in the morning to collect the fruit for our breakfast.
    But we still have the rice from the family’s rations to pick through. It is the lower grade product from Vietnam, and as there is likely to be a shortage of rice in 2017, the price will rise just to add to the increasing economic difficulties.

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