Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Making ends meet

It’s rare to see Western journalists based in or visiting Havana report on one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in Fidel Castro’s island paradise – the elderly.

So, credit where credit is due.

In today’s edition of The St Petersburg Times, reporter Saundra Amrhein has written an interesting (if at times uneven) article on how older Cubans make ends meet once they are forced to retire from their State jobs: they continue working.

In truth, they have little choice.

According to the report, the official pension is worth barely USD7.00 a month, the monthly food rations last for just a week and while health care is supposed to be "free", medications can only be purchased with hard currency.

It means that old people must rely on money sent in by relatives in the US to survive.

That’s the lucky ones.

Those who don’t have relatives overseas need to find odd jobs and engage in black market dealings to supplement their official income.

That is why retired scientists, teachers and ordinary labourers dot the streets of Havana doing unlikely jobs, like driving taxis, hawking newspapers, making and selling popcorn or roasted peanuts along the Malecon, or guarding parked cars for cash-rich tourists.

Most of these jobs are illegal as such private enterprise is strictly forbidden by the Castro regime.

Of course, this is not a problem unique to Cuba – there are poor pensioners in most other countries, too, including supposedly rich countries.

The difference is that the Castro regime will never admit that it’s a serious social issue that needs to be debated and addressed openly, rather than just blamed on the evil American "blockade".

And you will never, ever read this type of story in the tightly-controlled Cuban media.


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