Leonardo, Another Cuban Who Subsists

The elderly are the ones that have it hardest in today’s Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES – In Cuba, physical and psychological deterioration has been increasing. The struggle to survive has become an accumulating social problem. In the face of this deep crisis of skyrocketing inflation, food and fuel shortages, a large part of the population has found themselves living at a precarious standard of living. Leonardo, 40 years old, is one of those individuals who never gets a break.

Havana Times: It is said that in Cuba you can live without working. Is that true? 

Leonardo Prado: I don’t believe so, at least not in my case. I have never stopped working. It’s the only way to endure. I work as an assistant in a transportation establishment. There, I have to do everything: clean the floor, trim the grass around, fill the water tanks in the bathroom and kitchen, and whatever else comes up. Before, they used to bring lunch for the drivers and employees, which sustained me during the hours I was there. Sometimes, when there was something left, I would take it home and even share it with the stray dogs that roam around here. 

Apart from that job, do you have another one? 

LP: Yes, life for the average Cuban is tough. I feel like I’ve become like an animal. I do everything from trimming the neighbors’ yards to running errands, and lately, I’ve been delivering gas cylinders as a clandestine messenger. These are low-paying jobs, and 500 pesos is not much, but it’s something to bring home. I do these tasks when I have the opportunity; they don’t always notify me. There are many like me who fend for themselves with a machete in hand and have even built a grass trimmer to avoid deteriorating under the sun. My cart for transporting gas cylinders broke, so now I must carry them on my shoulder. I can’t afford to turn down an opportunity; otherwise, they won’t count on me. Everything has become difficult, even when I’ve been sick I don’t stop working. 

Taking people’s gas canister to be filled is a desired errand.

Who do you live with? 

LP: I live with my mother and sister. My mother’s pension is only 1528 pesos per month (under US $5), and my sister has never been able to work; she suffers from schizophrenia and is often in crisis. For them, I try not to lose strength and to cope when something breaks in the apartment. Living near the coast has its downside; the wooden doors and windows have deteriorated a lot. The longer time passes, the more problems will fall upon us without solutions. Since no one will help us, when bad weather comes, I try to board up the windows and secure the door with wires. That’s why I live day by day; if I think about the future, I go crazy. 

Have you thought about seeking another job opportunity, for example, in a private business? 

LP: Of course, I wish I could, but I’ve lost a lot of weight and even lost my teeth. I also don’t have suitable clothes or shoes to dress well for those places. People pay a lot of attention to that. Besides, I don’t consider myself an intelligent person; I have my little problems. I was very slow in school, but I believe I’ve acquired street smarts. The same situation has led me to know who is a scammer and who wants to mock me. There’s a private business nearby, and I see the employees well-shaven, in new clothes, and looking presentable. It would be a good option; it would improve my economic situation, even if I have to work until dawn. I have a neighbor who told me he earns 4000 pesos a week and that many times it’s still not enough to live on. And then I thought about those who survive with a pension like my mother’s and the 2200 pesos they pay me at work. 

Some see hope in the garbage.

Do you have family abroad? 

LP: No, perhaps if I did, we would live a little better. It’s just us and my nephew, who decided to live with a woman. He rarely comes around here. Maybe when my family is no longer around, I can go and see other places. I watch on television the development of many countries on other continents, and I believe we deserve something similar, even though they say you have to work very hard there, but you see the results; at least there’s food, which is one of the basic human needs. A few months ago, a neighbor came from the United States and gave me 3000 Cuban pesos, and I started to cry. I didn’t know how to thank her for that gesture, and I told her that if she needed any errands done, she could count on me. I have nothing else to offer but my work and goodwill. 

What do you do on weekends? 

LP: For me, every day is the same, and I’m not exaggerating. On Saturdays, I help a neighbor sell bread and cookies, and on Sundays, I clean the premises where there’s a barbershop. I don’t go out to have fun; that’s impossible these days. I also haven’t thought about finding a partner. Where would I take her? Prices are getting higher and higher, so I prefer to stay alone. My only entertainment is watching soap operas and movies on television at night. 

Do you think the average Cuban, like you, deserves a better life? 

LP: Of course. When I look at a photo of myself from 2019, I don’t recognize myself, and it really saddens me. The way I have deteriorated so much in such a short time! And not just me, but also my neighbors, likewise the schools, sports centers, streets, buildings. When I think about the solution to my problem, I don’t see it, and that terrifies me. My family deserves to be happy, to eat, to enjoy a good coffee, not to fear running out of rice and mincemeat.

It’s very sad that life passes you by like this. A few years ago, we didn’t live well because there has always been little money coming into my house, but nothing compared to the situation now. Currently, the leftovers of some, filled with worms, are food for others in the garbage rubble. There are more crazy people and people living on the streets. Nearby my house, there are elderly people abandoned, which breaks my heart, but I have nothing to give them. I share what little I have with my family. Those who don’t have mechanisms to survive, I don’t think they can endure this situation without getting sick.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

2 thoughts on “Leonardo, Another Cuban Who Subsists

  • You are absolutely correct Chris. Leonardo is your typical Cuban living a daily life of utter misery. As the article articulates so poignantly, Leonardo must make many, many sacrifices just to eat – just to survive.

    Wasn’t it you, Chris, who emphatically stated in one of your posts dealing with stolen potatoes in a province in Cuba that, quote “ EVERYONE in Cuba is or has been a thief at some point” unquote?

    Extrapolating from your Cuban condemnation, poor Leonardo would fit into your demeaning characterization. You feel sick and angry for witnessing just one Cuban’s daily struggle, multiply your sentiments for the majority of Cubans like Leonardo who are under the yoke of a totalitarian government that has next to no concern for its impoverished citizenry. They must fend for themselves.

    Nowhere in the article is there any suggestion that Leonardo partakes in thievery. Though any person living anywhere in the world would certainly consider illegal options if they found themselves in the dire economic circumstances Leonardo and the plethora of Cubans find themselves in.

    All it takes is a little bit of courageous journalism exposing the reality of life in Cuba today for outsiders to stop and say you know what: This person’s story (Leonardo’s in this case) is truthful. He is a law abiding Cuban doing the best he can to simply survive.

    How many more Cubans like him/her, story untold, are suffering and surviving the same fate? Tragically too many.

  • Oh my God….Dios mio….
    This fellows story is SO close to the truth it makes me both sick and angry.
    I see this situation on a daily basis, cannot understand how a Govt would allow this.

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