The Daily Life of the Elderly in Cuba (Part II)
April 21, 2014
HAVANA TIMES — "High prices. Shortages. We have to adapt to the times,
"I'm alive only because God wants me to be," "The problem is loneliness,
the problem is food. One has to shoulder a whole lot of problems," "A
242-peso pension isn't enough to live on" – such are the comments the
first interviewees make in Didier Santos' and Yaima Pardo's documentary
Al Final del Camino ("At the End of the Road").
The film gathers the testimonies and thoughts of Cuban pensioners who
look back on their last decades of life on the island.
"I've given more to the State than the State is giving me at the moment.
I've worked all of my life. I'm now 83," another interviewee says. The
documentary draws our attention to a social reality we co-exist with but
do not know in depth.
Al final del camino also gathers opinions and concerns on the subject
from representatives of the institutions who offer services and work
with the elderly in Cuba. These officials call for long-term and
permanent care for those who require it, "a quality of life as similar
to the one [the elderly] once had." "The elderly are an increasingly
broad sector of Cuba's total population," we are told.
Before, retiring was synonymous with spending time with one's
grandchildren (while they were still children), enjoying a good baseball
game on TV, playing domino with friends at a street corner (an ongoing
tradition), going out for a stroll along Havana's ocean drive, visiting
old friends or relatives one didn't have time to see while working,
going to premieres at movie theaters, going camping with the family, and
throwing parties (something everyone enjoys).
Many elderly people in Cuba still refuse to join old people circles that
exercise outdoors or practice Thai Chi (which is very much in vogue in
Cuba today). Some time ago, the elderly themselves baptized such
programs as "The Junker Plan."
Some remain active in their neighborhoods, but others suffer lonely
existences, depression and anemia.
Those who live with them are sometimes unable to care for them
adequately or even show them a bit of affection.
Many who lost their loved ones – people they lived with or were very
close to – now live with their children and grandchildren, people who
are immersed in their own daily problems and do not pay attention to
them, do not understand them or are disrespectful towards them. Some
have children who live very far away or who have left the country.
Others aren't ill but feel abandoned. They are visited by relatives or
acquaintances who treat them in abusive ways or simply do not look after
them (and, in many cases, only wish to inherit the house or apartment
the elderly person lives in).
Those who live alone have no means or the physical capacity to maintain
or repair their homes or to keep their surroundings clean.
In Old Havana, there are subsidized homes for elderly people who have no
means to live on their own, but…what of the rest?
The elderly have a tough time preparing food for themselves, let alone
maintaining a healthy diet rich in vegetables. "It's too expensive!" one
of them says. The government's welfare program offers a series of
cafeterias that serve lunch and supper at very low prices, but there are
those who regard these places as unhygienic.
A great many elderly people in Cuba spend more money on medication than
on food, for afflictions typical of their age: high blood pressure,
arthritis, diabetes (the top three on the list). One hears old people
say "getting old is the worst thing out there," referring to all of the
conditions that begin to afflict you.
The majority of elderly people have no other option other than getting
by on a pension which is well beneath the minimum needed to make ends meet.
There are those who don't even have enough to pay off the debts they
accrued when the "Energy Revolution" campaign was implemented and
electrical appliances were sold on credit to the population. Others
retired on a 70-peso pension and currently receive 200 pesos thanks to
the revision of Cuba's Social Security Law – but even the new pension
The government argues that it pushed back the country's official
retirement age to reduce the financial impact that paying pensions for
long periods of time has on the State. Though it appears the life
expectancy is increasing on the island because better healthcare
services are being offered the elderly, their vulnerable and unstable
social situation is actually making their lives worse at present.
Al final del camino warns us that Cuba may become one of the most aged
countries on the planet if this matter isn't addressed in a timely fashion.
One of the interviewees suggests that society must look on the medical
care, proper nutrition, housing, privacy and transportation of the
elderly as a first-order priority, and that old people must be given
opportunities to interact with other generations.
"We must take on the social commitment of creating a new society with
new social relations."
"The population must be more proactive, it must create, not merely
comply with instructions received from above. We must participate more
actively in the creation of the policies that affect them. They cannot
be the objects of these policies, they must be their agents."
It is very refreshing to see a film that gathers undreamed-of images of
dilapidated, dirty and neglected spaces where old people live, a film
that reminds us the elderly "are an important part of society and must
be treated with dignity. (…) They do not deserve to be left to their own
resources. They deserve a decorous life."
Source: The Daily Life of the Elderly in Cuba (Part II) – Havana
Times.org – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=103144