Reports from Cuba: In one way or another, we are all indigent

Ernesto Perez Chang writes from Havana via CubaNet:

In one way or another, we are all indigent

“Wanderers,” as the official Cuban press euphemistically calls the homeless, are only the most evident and least aesthetic expression of the state of indigence we Cubans endure.

“Seeing how bad things are, we’ll all end up like that,” a passerby says as he observes the man lying on the sidewalk; he keeps on walking. Neither the times nor the prices allow anyone to stop and help, and very few people have a spare 50 pesos in their pocket to give away to a stranger.

“In the past, you would give a beggar one peso, someone else would leave five pesos, but today you can’t solve anything with such handouts. You can’t even afford a soda and a piece of bread…  in fact, there is no bread,” says someone else who is standing in front of one of the many “wandering” men and women that you find by the dozens in any town in Cuba. In Havana, one finds them on every street corner, which could account for thousands of elderly folks without family protection, the homeless, and people without means or without sufficient financial help from the State institutions, the mentally ill who get no medical attention or find medicines in pharmacies.

At some point before the “economic reforms” which, following the principle of “eliminating all perks”, ravaged the savings of Cubans, the regime promised that no one would be neglected or left helpless. Those words were spoken when we already had alarming levels of neglect and poverty around us, and judging by the degree of indigence we have sunk into, even before the pandemic, only proves that those words were just that: words.

Scrawny bodies that show weeks-long hunger and thirst, and months of neglect, people who resemble animals sleeping in the parks, eating leftovers in porches, and emptying their bowels in public amidst a city in ruins whose residents watch as if all these situations were normal, when in fact they seem to be narrated by Dante in his Inferno.

“It’s enough to have to deal with all the problems one has. If you start worrying about the things you see, you’ll go crazy,” a stranger says to me as an explanation for why people have stopped being charitable and compassionate in spite of the fact that it’s obvious that these homeless people are not drug addicts or drunkards, but sick and hopeless people generated not by the “blockade” –this government’s go-to explanation for everything that goes wrong in this country- but by the official Economic Reordering Task. This government task hasn’t turned bad as of recently, as they would have us believe. It was bad from the get go, not well thought out, implemented in a selfish and perverse way, as is everything else when the extremist ideology of the political system takes priority over the basic needs and essential rights of human beings.

You can’t take a step in the city without bumping into a homeless person who literally will die on a street corner without care or attention. Those twenty-some influencer-fools the government has invited these days, all expenses paid, will neither see nor narrate any of that. They will be wined and dined, eat food that the average Cuban hasn’t even dreamt of eating for years now, and they will enjoy the luxury hotels and tourist sites in an effort to get the tourism industry going again.

The authorities still don’t understand that the tourists that are brought to Cuba under false pretenses will not return, and every day there are more of them that discover that our “local color” is not so much our idiosyncrasy but a long list of hardships, systematic abuse, absurd prohibitions, apartheid, corruption and, above all, a lost love-of-country for a country that stopped being a country when the communists turned it into the absolute property of their Party.

No one wants to return to a place where everyone wants to leave for good, and those who can’t, no longer find a way to survive their tragedy. No one wants to visit a place where absolutely everyone is a beggar, where yesteryear’s solidarity, kindness, joy and spontaneity have become an opportunistic mask, especially for swindling foreign visitors.

The “wanderers”, as the official Cuban press euphemistically calls the homeless -now that they are much too many and are, therefore, difficult to hide- are only the most evident and least aesthetic expression of the state of indigence we Cubans endure. We can’t even free ourselves from that burden even if we flee across the oceans. Somehow, it seems that “we’ll all end up like that,” as that passerby said to me without stopping. His words ring true, not just ominous.

1 thought on “Reports from Cuba: In one way or another, we are all indigent”

  1. One way or another, we all share in Cuba’s fall into the abyss, for which there was neither need nor is there a rational or respectable explanation. We are all disgraced by it, even those who had nothing to do with it, simply by being Cubans. We should all do what we can to help, and at least NOT be part of the problem.

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