What Fate Awaits Our Grandparents?

By Peregrino Perez

Photo: Alejandro Arce

HAVANA TIMES — In Cienfuegos, the city I live in, hearing bakers hawk their bread is a very common thing. They aren’t bakers though really, as they don’t make bread, they just sell it on the street.

A loaf of bread sells for 4 pesos (0.20 USD) at state-run bakeries and street sellers then sell them for 5 pesos (0.25 USD). This has been one of many self-employed jobs that we have invented in order to survive. It’s an honest job that saves us the need of having to wait in long lines in order to get a hold of this valued food item.

It’s quite common for the elderly to serve in this army of bread sellers. Many of them are over 70 years old. They sell bread so regularly that they have become an essential part of Cienfuegos’ urban landscape.

Our everyday life is full of so many problems that we don’t stop to think about many things. An old person carrying heavy bags of bread, whether that’s in the morning or under the scorching sun at noon, shouldn’t be a normal thing. We can’t let our problems make us insensitive to these occurrences which we don’t protest.

On Friday March 23rd, one of these old bread sellers died while he was working. This isn’t a one-off case, it’s happened before. Being a street seller requires a great amount of physical effort, as they have to carry heavy bags on their shoulders. Dignified work ennobles the person doing it, but these elderly people have already worked enough. They should be resting; instead, they are forced to carry on working due to their extremely poor pensions.

Photo: Alexander Londoño

In Cuba, there are a large number of people who receive less than 10 CUC (10 USD) per month as a pension. It’s impossible to have a dignified quality of life with that amount. Those who don’t have their family’s support are extremely vulnerable. Government promises of improvements in the future are never kept. Time passes by and the philosophy of “every man for himself” continues to win over followers.

Osmel Ramirez left his ballot paper blank; I didn’t go out to vote. It’s my own way of protesting, of rebelling against so much injustice and apathy. I know that it isn’t enough to bring about change. It won’t be at least while only a few people dare to show their inconformity. 

While our right to dissent is being hijacked, we need to find ways to make our sad reality visible. Filling the spaces left by official media outlets. Making the solution to our problems the government’s priority. We will only be able to do this if we take our complaints to every forum we can and put them out of their comfort zone and destroy the image of social wellbeing here in Cuba that they have exported.