The End of the Road: On Cuba’s Elderly (Video)

Veronica Vega

From the documentary “Al final del camino” (At the end of the road)

HAVANA TIMES — I have just seen a documentary that should be shown on Cuban television during prime time. It would be a good indication that we are trying to “change everything that should be changed”, as Fidel Castro said some time ago.

Produced by Matraka Producciones, Al final del camino (“At the End of the Road”), based on an original idea of Diddier Santos’, written by Yaima Pardo and directed by the two, addresses the delicate issue of old age in Cuba.

The film explores the lives of the generations who devoted their entire lives to a dream and today face a reality well beyond their physicial, psychological and – most importantly – financial reach.

Without cowardly beating around the bush or resorting to double meanings, the documentary captures the daily lives of these withered beings who reflect on their situation and even dream up solutions to their problems – with astonishment, naivety or devoid of hope.

The film does not resort to any cheap, sentimentalist tricks: it shows us what’s there, a simple and at times crushing truth, old people who are victims of lovelessness and loneliness, who are vulnerable and even at risk of ending up on the street. It documents the day to day existence of generations who awoke in the middle of their fall from grace and do not know, cannot stop the process.

From “Al final del camino”.

In the documentary, one hears phrases such as:

“I am alive thanks to the grace of God.”

“I feel mistreated by my own family.”

“We have material problems, but we also have moral problems. You can’t stow away people (at old people’s homes) like you do furniture…”

Everyone speaks: government officials responsible for addressing such cases (to which they are not indifferent), experts who assess goals, obstacles and shortages, without beating around the bush or going off on tangents. Questions arise: what can one do with a pension? What can one do with the ration booklet? What good is the country’s Social Security system?

At one point, we hear a fragment of a speech by Fidel Castro, who says: “(…) today, and, more importantly, tomorrow, may each citizen live on the fruits of his work and on their pension.”

The speech isn’t used in a scathing manner. It is deployed as a concrete and necessary commentary. The documentary seeks to identify who’s responsible for the present state of affairs, aware that these problems are plain to see and that they become more serious every day.

From “Al final del camino.”

In the film, we see old people’s homes whose facilities are virtually uninhabitable, a somber spectacle of overcrowding, as well as charitable projects such as Caritas and others sponsored by the city historian, Eusebio Leal, offering services that only the middle class can afford. We see what enormous difference a bit of dignity makes.

Some of the individuals heading the country’s programs for the elderly aren’t exactly young. Perhaps working with Cuba’s old is a way of looking in the mirror, looking to that long “stretch of road on a pension,” to the uncertainty that will also be their lot – and ours.

Something I thought was significant is that those interviewed, more than draw attention to themselves or try and justify their condition, want to do something. Everyone is tired of mere words.

As a demographer says near the end of the film: “(…) the population has to become more proactive. We can’t be passive about this and wait for something to happen all by itself. Young people, the elderly must participate more actively in the creation of policies that have an impact on their lives. They can’t simply be the object of these policies, they must also be their agents.”

I believe many of us can agree with this. The question is: when and how do we start?

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Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.


8 thoughts on “The End of the Road: On Cuba’s Elderly (Video)

  • October 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm
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    Walter, petty theft is the least of the potential problems with your scheme. You do realize of course that there would need to be huge changes in political positions, both in Havana and in Washington, before such a plan could arise? No US president would consider such a plan while the Castro regime exists. The current Cuban government, and any post-Castro leadership following the same system would never accept the idea either.

    More significantly, the demographic collapse Cuba is entering will make it impossible to look after their own elderly, let alone import seniors from the US.

    The Cuban government needs to deal with the demographic crisis before the time runs out. If they fail to do so, the outcome will be a catastrophe.

  • October 8, 2013 at 8:30 am
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    Another excellent column from Veronica.

    The challenges facing Cuba’s elderly today will only get worse as the population ages. It has been estimated that by 2030, some 30% of the population will be over 60, more than the number of people under 20. If it is difficult to look after the elderly today, it will be impossible by then. Unless the government of Cuba moves very soon to make the profound changes necessary to save Cuba, the nation is doomed to a demographic collapse.

    Walter, your suggestion of building retirement homes in Cuba for American ex-pats assumes that the necessary political changes occurred in both countries to allow such a thing. I have seen no evidence of such changes coming on either side of the Florida Straits. If it did happen, it would bring in more cash, but I doubt Cuba could sustain a very large population of expats, because it would not address the fundamental problem of Cuba’s demographic decline. With fewer and fewer young people to do the work, there will be nobody left to look after the old.

    The only solution is for the Cuban rulers to give the young a good reason to stay in Cuba and have children. But to do that would mean instituting such profound reforms as to bring about the end of the regime, and those in power will never do that.

  • October 7, 2013 at 12:58 pm
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    “Moses, as usual, you respond with a negative that argues nothing good or different is possible, why? Because it is about Cuba? ”

    Hey Moses this guy hit the nail right on the head describing your usual anti Cuba remarks!

  • October 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm
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    Caution: The video is excellent, but I recommend you don”t download the converter, use the option to watch on YouTube. The downloadable viewer takes over your browser.

  • October 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm
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    Moses, as usual, you respond with a negative that argues nothing good or different is possible, why? Because it is about Cuba? Sorry Moses, but a real program of providing voluntary elder care programs for foreigners with money and medical insurance prepaid might well run into some problems – but Moses if you worked with nursing and elder care in the U.S. you would know it already happens. But the primary thievery is conducted by overpriced nursing homes that charge huge amounts and deliver only a portion of the that in direct care. Then there are the Medicaid paid homes that cheat both the seniors and the majority of the staff. So, I believe what I am suggesting would produce better care, in a better environment (not in isolated and depressing buildings far from any community), and given that the pay and treatment would have to be supervised and regulated by both Cuban and US health care agencies, even with some corruptions and theft, the end results woulg be a lot better than what takes place now, in both Cuba and the U.S. elder care facilities affected. My quick estimate is that even with special and inflated medical costs in Cuba, the cost to US Medicare would be less than 25% and the average cost (not counting what families and others kick in) of $1,000 a month would provide for lots of quality attention. But then Moses, you may be right, so why should we even think about it?

  • October 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm
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    Walter, can you imagine the thievery that would take place in Cuba should your idea come to pass? Cubans are stealing the food and medical supplies destined for elderly POOR Cubans. How much more would be stolen from a ‘rich’ elderly American?

  • October 5, 2013 at 3:51 am
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    Cuba’s elderly are those that suffer the most. Pensions are so low that it is impossible to live on them in most cases. Thank God that most get support from their families abroad.

    In old people’s homes and communal kitchens their food is stolen. They are also abused in these homes
    http://cubadata.blogspot.ca/2013/08/roban-los-productos-de-los-ancianos.html
    http://cubadata.blogspot.ca/2013/04/maltratos-en-hogar-de-ancianos.html
    http://cubadata.blogspot.ca/2011/11/abusos-en-hogar-de-ancianos.html

    Exiles have started lots of projects to help them:
    http://cubadata.blogspot.ca/2013/06/exiliados-cubanos-ayudan-ancianos-de.html

    Even the old themselves have started to rebel:
    http://cubadata.blogspot.ca/2013/06/ancianos-exigen-su-cuota-en-panaderia.html

    The French magazine L’Express dedicated an artocle to oild people’s homes in Cuba in 2004 stating what old people suffered:
    “Abuse, inadequate food … homes for the elderly are similar to prisons”

    “Les mouroirs de Cuba”
    Par par Michel Faure, publié le 12/07/2004
    http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/monde/amerique/les-mouroirs-de-cuba_489056.html

  • October 4, 2013 at 11:01 pm
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    Veronica Vega, I haven’t seen the film, but I know that Cuba is hurting economically and the elderly, especially those without family support are sure to suffer the most. I am also glad to read that you and others think becomeing proactive and dealing with this realistically is essential. I am an elder myself, now 77 and facing a number of health problems. But I was lucky, more so than many others and that luck included the chance to work very hard and be helped by a loving companion for many years. But the problems of survival are unique in all countries and Cuba’s difficulties started centuries ago and were not solved by a revolution that could not prevent my country from doing everything in its power to make Cubans suffer. So now I do what I can to help and I start with trying to get my fellow citizens to learn about and respect Cuba in all its complex reality. One suggestion, that may not always be so fantastic, would be work to set up retirement services for “rich” Americans in Cuba. Just as the tourist dollars in Old Town help to rebuild parts of Havana, so to could U.S. social security and medicare payments help to subsidize elder care in Cuba. For example, an average elder on social security in the US receives say $1,000 a month plus Medicare which can be many thousands more. A fortune in Cuba which would easily more than pay for housing, care and medical treatment – all far superior to that which these US. elders receive in many wretched nursing homes around the US. Yes, it would require a lowering of the embargo and allowing retirement payments to go to Cuba, and Cuba would have to see it as a good opportunity. As a social worker of over 30 years, I think it would work. But this is just one idea. Clearly much needs to be done.

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