Retirement on a Shoestring

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.

  • The Varela project….

  • Have you read Ernesto Guevara’s own publications. You can read them without charge in the Cuban libraries (but not Dr, Zhivago) or purchase at the Cuban airports or get them direct from Ocean Press.

  • You Kennedy Earle Clarke have a ripe imagination.
    The Cuban Five were professional spies employed in the service of the Director General of Intelligence in the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). It is correct that they were caught, but not that they risked their lives. Having been identified, caught, tried and imprisoned and eventually traded for Allan Gross, their usefulness as agents in the field was finished. In an endeavour to turn failure into success, the Government of Cuba made them into a cause celebre with the Department of Propaganda putting up gigantic hoardings around Cuba and posters in every school. Upon return to Cuba the regime awarded them medals and designated each as a “Hero of the Revolution”. They were then used as ‘guests’ at a variety of events such as the celebration at the Rosenberg Memorial.

    The declared major role of education in Cuba is indoctrination (read the Constitution).

    To declare that the “Cuban Revolution is introducing a system that is based on humanity” is new because for fifty seven years the reverse has been practiced. When did the change take place, because Cubans are both unaware of and unaffected by it?

    Even in within the much promoted UNESCO site of Havana Vieja one can find scavengers searching the garbage cans for throwaways and food. If you go to Cristo Street in Havana Vieja halfway along on the east side you will find scavengers sleeping on cardboard waiting for the so-called re-cycling facility to open in the morning. This reflects the level of compassion felt by the Castro family regime for the citizenry and is a measure of their success after fifty seven years of power.
    Your message appears to be that there is a good time coming as you say in speaking of Cuba:
    “I do not need to go hungry because the State ensures that I get something to eat.”
    Obviously you have failed to read the contributions in Havana Times made by Rosa Martinez a University Professor and of her difficulties in feeding her children and of searching for a few pesos from a neighbour.
    To be kind, I think these numerous blind spots within your vision are a consequence of your detestation for your own country and the governments which your fellow citizens have elected.
    But Havana Times is about Cuba and the articles within it are written by Cubans or former Cubans (for example Martin Guevara). I recommend to you that you read more carefully, think and reflect upon what they have said and only then comment. Sounding off nonsensically as you have above, degrades your contributions.
    Four members of my family have served or are currently serving in the medical and educational services contracted by the Castro regime to other countries and I personally know others. Each of them has done so in order to obtain higher remuneration than they receive in Cuba. None of them have recounted an objective of rendering “yeoman service to their fellow men. They have spoken of satisfaction at being able to afford to buy additional clothing and improve their homes as a consequence of the additional earnings.
    I never criticize Cuba, but do criticize the imposition of communism upon Cubans by the tyrannical Castro regime. I note that Informed Consent as a Cuban acts similarly. Cubans love their country and their culture, but not the dictatorship which controls their lives.

  • Every system has it’s supporters. These professional, failed spies, actually part of a larger spy network, give their allegiance to Cuba. My question to you is, why have hundreds of thousands of Cuban’s given their lives to escape your vaunted revolution? Just last week another boat load of Cubans risked shark infested waters to come to the US. In the 60’s thousands of parents made the ultimate sacrifice and sent their kids to the US to escape communism…why?

    You ascribe motivations to the revolution that are not there. Medical “professionals” are sent overseas to raise hard cash, not out of any sense of morality. Indeed, before the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba exported revolution, not medicine.

    Education is to be found, free of charge, relatively speaking, in countries outside of Cuba without having to give up any basic freedoms. And once an educational degree is secured, they can actually peruse there desired career, unlike Cuba.

    And you are mistaken if you don’t think Cuban’s don’t don’t go hungry. The rations they receive don’t last more than two weeks, leaving them to try and “resolver” the rest of the month. An old Cuban joke says it best, I’ll shorten it for the sake of brevity “…the failures of the revolution are breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” It’s funny in Spanish anyways.

    But non of this is new, and has been repeated here ad nauseam. You either accept it, or you do not.

  • I believe arroz con mango would be closer to the mark

  • As I have mentioned before, Cuba’s National Assembly is a rubber-stamp congress. With Circles indulgence, I will once again post something he wrote on his blog a few years back. “….Since virtually all decisions are made as executive orders by the Council of Ministers, the parliament is relegated to rubber stamping decisions already made and sometimes already implemented.

    Virtually all votes are unanimous and any debates among the members are held behind closed doors. Even an abstention is highly rare. This is to say 612 deputies routinely agree with every executive order passed by the Council of Ministers”

    There are your facts…How you like them apples?

  • Again you need to check your facts. Many delegates voted against the recent Labour law.

  • How to prepare congri?

  • Brother Carlyle, I have the Biography of Che in my library and I have not come across any thing you have said about him. Do you possess a copy of his biography? If you do, please to point out the page?

  • But Informed Consent, Why is it that FIVE persons risked their lives to protect their Revolution? There must be something about the Revolution for them to make that sacrifice and, after being released return home to a Hero;s Welcome? One of them had US Citizenship and revoked it to live in Cuba. What about the ability to access education which can allow you to be what you want to be? What about all those professionals who go abroad and return home satisfied that they have rendered yeoman service to their fellow men?
    The Cuban Revolution is introducing a system that is based on humanity. This system is based on service not the exploitation of patients to become rich. Love, Compassion, Feeling for your brother and your sister’s welfare. 200 pesos per month, but I do not have to search the garbage pans for throwaway or discarded food; I am housed; I can access free medical attention at the highest level. I do not go hungry because the State ensures that I get something to eat. Compare these Cubans to the Americans who, in the dead of winter have to endure hunger and freezing cold with no access to warmth and left on the streets to die like dogs and you have the effrontery to criticize Cuba?

  • Ouch!

  • You know, if you have a gripe with a particular story, please feel free to point out the error. And although there is much in what you say I disagree with, I’ll limit my criticism to one point. You ask why we are critical about the economic system Cuba chose to follow? It’s quite simple (and please feel free to disagree) Cuba, or at least it’s people, never had a choice. Almost 60 years later they still have no voice, and no choice. You still live in your 60s fantasy of what the future would hold for communism. Your “support” of Cuba during that time was a slap in the face of those of us who had to live the reality of your communist, Disney World fantasy.

    It is of endless wonder who otherwise intelligent people can consistently fool themselves.

  • My mother-in-law had four children. Two are teachers, one with a Masters degree, one was the nursing Sister in the operating theatre of the hospital and spent three years under contract in Venezuela and the fourth is employed on a poultry farm.
    My mother-in-laws pension is 200 pesos per month. ($8 US). She has her ration card and receives free medical services.
    Until I contributed some funds, my mother-in-law, two of her children with their spouses and two grandchildren lived in a two bedroom house with a septic tank and two cold water taps.
    I understand from my experiences in Cuba that her conditions are a fair representation of the average.

  • It would seem that Carlyle McDuff has obliterated your vacuous comment with his reply. It would do you well to recognize when you are out of your league. There must be a blog somewhere on Cuban cooking you could contribute to.

  • The blog is called Havana Times. That should give you a clue a to why the focus is on Cuba and not the US. Criticizing Cuba does not mean that the US or anywhere else is perfect. You overinterpret the reasons behind articles critical of the Castro dictatorship. If an article published at this site is fact-based, what is your gripe? The other “news sources you cited are largely published for propaganda. Important facts are often overlooked in order to cast a more positive light on the failed Castro revolution. Finally, it is nuts to believe that poor folks in Cuba who live in cinder block houses with thatch roofs and no electricity or plumbing are somehow better off than even our poorest who still own flatscreen TVs, iPhones, and indoor plumbing. Absolutely nuts.

  • What benefits do senior citizens receive from the government? If any.

  • So now Kennedy Earle Clarke you would deny ‘Che’ Guevara. There is no record of any decision made by the dictators placed in front of those attending a Congress of the PCC or the so-called ‘Parliament’ ever showing dissent. You cannot provide a single example!

    You may have read in these pages, my views upon professional spies including the so-called “Cuban Five”. Having been unsuccessful they were caught, tried and imprisoned. If they had been successful, they would still be operating and unrecognized.

    I have also expressed my qualified view about those who are employed as professional spies by their countries. Theirs is a lonely and risky occupation which demands absolute dedication – whichever country or political view they support.
    The ‘Cuban Five’ were fortunate compared with those agents from the west who when captured by the USSR (Russia) were frequently shot not imprisoned. Yes, there were the odd exceptions like Greville Wynn who was exchanged, just as the ‘Cuban Five’ were exchanged for Alan Gross.

    As I have previously described, the former Deputy Head of the British SIS (MI6) George K. Young wrote a book with the challenging title of: “Who is my Liege?”. It is an excellent question, for a good spy can have but one true loyalty, but is that to their country, to a political party – obviously impossible in a multi-party democracy where ruling parties change, or to the Head of State? Obviously in the case of the ‘Cuban Five’ their loyalty was to their permanent Castro family “Head of State’. Similarly for the British SIS it is the Queen.

    Cuban Spies report only to the Director of Intelligence, British ones only to the Prime Minister. When I spoke of the ‘Cuban Five’ being unsuccessful I was thinking also about the successful Cuban spies – those who haven’t been caught!

    Obviously the KGB training and the merits of the Director of Intelligence in Cuba, General Alejandro Castro Espin have brought results. Raul Castro’s relationship with the KGB through Nikolai S. Leonov has lasted from April 1953 until now, commencing in the USSR, then in Mexico and finally in Havana. Leonov was also the boss of Colonel Vladamir Putin of the KGB.

    Finally Mr. Clarke I ask you to support your claim that I am the “great Critic of Cuba” by giving a single example! Yes, you will find a multitude of examples of criticism of the Castro family communist regime and of their dictatorial oppression of the people of Cuba, but of Cuba the country and the people of Cuba, none!

    Do not make the error of promoting the regime and its communist practices as synonymous with Cuba. They are but dictators exerting power and control over the people of Cuba without ever being elected in an open free democratic election. You decry the Havana Times for allowing articles written by Cubans and Open free discussion, replicating the normal repression practiced by the Castros – with whom none of their minions ever disagree!

    Circles Robinson as Editor of Havana Times has in fairness published articles by Elio Legon – but maybe you condemn him along with “Che’ Guevara as unrepresentative of communism and the revolution?

  • The great Critic of Cuba, Carlyle MacDull, is at it again. If it is criminal to think as an individual, why do the Communist Party hold Sessions and ask for the imput of the delegates? If, to think as an individual is criminal, why would the Cuban Five make such an heroic sacrifice to their very lives and liberty in order to defend a homeland where it is criminal for an individual to think for him/herself? They were in the Land of the brave and the free, where that same land of the free, was harbouring terrorists to destroy the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Birds of a feather, always flock together. The biggest terrorist was harbouring terrorists to teaching them the craft of terrorism on its turf. “A man is known by the company he keeps!!”

  • Why is it that Havana Times is always bashing Cuba which had a Revolution on January 1st, 1959,(57) years ago and you are always so critical about it and the system of development it has chosen to follow? On the other hand, you have America, the bastion of capitalism which gained its Independence 4th July, 1776 (240) years ago and which has a high percentage of illiteracy, a high rate of unemployment, people living in ghettos, people living on the streets hungry and lacking medical attention, people searching the garbage bins for food so that they could survive, workers who are grossly underpaid, citizens who have no hope whatsoever, an overly high crime rate, almost twelve (12) million more than the population of Cuba, incarcerated (in prisons) and all you can do is to constantly criticize Cuba every day? You did not offer a whisper or even a clearing of the throat when those racist cops in America shot those innocent Black men who offered no threat to them; but, knowing your modus operandi, I am not surprised at your deafening silence. Not Surprised at All! This is called, “Freedom of the press!” The Christmas Season is nigh five months away, the country has not begun to get chilly, the snow has not begun to fall as yet, yet you have conveniently begun to sing and to hum the Christmas Carol, “SILENT NIGHT!!” when it come to hienous crimes or happenings occurring in America. You must make inquiries as to the achievements Cuba has made since the Revolution and print them! Read Cuba Si. or Granma English Edition! Your one sided articles. The poorest person in Cuba is King, Emperor, Queen, President, Prime Minister, Pope to the poorest person in America!!

  • Paula Henriquez ends her article by posing a question: “don’t you think”. The response from a dedicated Marxist ‘Che’ Guevara is:

    “It is criminal to think as an individual.”

    As I wrote previously, the requirements for Cubans seeking to have a quiet life is:

    “Don’t challenge the system, accept it, stay mute and exist.”

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