Who in Cuba Cares about the Elderly?

Veronica Vega

Photo Mabel Nakkache

HAVANA TIMES — Walking down a street in Alamar, I heard a young woman say to another: “An old man fell from the 5th floor trying to get in through the balcony because he had left the key…”

The indifference of her comment didn’t fit in with the atrocious event. Shocked, I told those who were with me what I had heard. After the initial shock, there were questions which of course I couldn’t answer. Who was he? Where? What led up to the accident?

A friend said: “But, if he was so old, why did he try and go up to the balcony himself?”

I dryly answered that he probably didn’t have anyone who he could ask to do it, and few are  willing to try and do something so risky.” I was bothered by the way this piece of news had reached my ears, unimportant for society, and also because of the last comment.

My friend is young and isn’t aware of the helplessness the terrible combination of old age and misery entail.  Misery which, as well as being biological and financial, can also be moral and spiritual, and it ends up converting a human being into a burden for themselves even.

Yesterday, I read an article on Cubanet’s newsletter about a dead man’s body being found at the entrance of the Clinical Surgery Hospital on 26th avenue. The journalist had gone to the place and seen a policeman and a medical examiner along with a corpse wrapped up in nylon. He tried to find out what had happened, but they didn’t give him any information. A hospital employee told him that the man who had died lived there, under the bridge. And “he wasn’t even 70 years old even though he looked much older…”

It’s devastating that a personal tragedy isn’t turned around (in life) and once that life comes to its end, that it doesn’t even move anyone not even as a statistic.

It wasn’t a catastrophe, a dramatic accident with a high number of fatalities. It wasn’t the death toll of a war (which in spite of its political connotations is much worse, as there isn’t anything that depersonalizes someone like war does). Twenty odd people didn’t die under a bridge, like the ones who died at Havana’s Psychiatric Hospital did because of hypothermia and neglect from their families and the government. Only one man died and there was a dog by his side who was maybe the only one to feel his loss. A double tragedy if that animal doesn’t find another home until his own death.

I remembered the 2013 film “Still Life”, directed by Uberto Pasolini, where it shows a really undervalued aspect of human life: old age and dying alone. In the film, there is a funeral services employee who is responsible for looking for any relative or acquaintance who is willing, not to cover the costs of the funeral, but to say a final farewell to the deceased.

There is a scene where the main character (this kind of social worker) discovers a postcard where the deceased old lady had written, pretending that her cat had written it to her, the only immediate loved one left.

I believe that the real drama of the movie is communicated at this point: the old lady’s desperate need to know she was loved, remembered by somebody.

Death, in any case, frees the person suffering from physical or mental agony, but it’s a lack of love, when alone or with others, that is the reason for going astray which can imply reactionary melancholy, to somatize sadness, to try and find an escape with alcohol, antipsychotics; general irresponsibility and a series of destructive actions.

You have to do everything and give everything while you are still alive. It’s the family’s responsibility to protect an old person, but if they are absent or dysfunctional, the State has the direct obligation of reminding them, via its social institutions, that their existence matters. 

4 thoughts on “Who in Cuba Cares about the Elderly?

  • I have been to Cuba several times and i have seen people queueing for rations in Moron. I have visited stores in Santiago de Cuba only to find half the shelves empty, i have met beggars who wanted the shoes from my own feet so please do not confuse me with someone who supports the U.S.A. and someone who cannot make up their own mind. I was taken in by all the hype about Che when i was a lot younger, however now after reading quite a few books on Che, i now believe that he was nothing more than a hired gun who took great delight in putting people up in front of a firing squad. It was the very elderly people of Cuba who helped put these despots in government.

  • Gerard, I have been to Cuba. I have been around> I have seen the elderly exercising. I have been shown the clinics where they can attend free of charge and not like in the USA. The Elderly have been well taken of. This is just propaganda by Havana Times! This period is the dead of winter in the Mighty USA. If you were to visit there today, this minute, you will observe homeless people out in the cold, seaching the garbage bins for food. Speak to that Gerard. To thine own self be true. Stop being a propagandist, and SPEAK the truth. Have you ever been to CUBA Gerald? I have been there (4) times and I have travelled around the country unmolested!

  • I was at Calle 23 last December,a old man collapsed on the street and nobody stopped to see what happened to him,I tried to ask people in my poor Spanish to call for an ambulance,but they said they had no credit on their phones,I finally managed to see some policemen and asked them to attend this man but they said to me to call for an ambulance.I had to leave as I was myself walking towards a clinic for foreigners in Calle L after an eye lesion

  • The very elderly are the very people who supported the revolution and what have they got to show for it now?

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