An immense cry of joy rises in the small house of the Havana district of Vedado. marisbel
, 60, hands two sheets of paper on which are written the coordinates of a flight to Nicaragua. Goal ? Join his son. He lives in the United States. “In Managua, a Coyote (smuggler) will be waiting for me and we will cross the borders as a group. I do not know more. My son took care of everything,” says Marisbel.
At the mention of the crossing on foot of Honduras, Guatemala, then Mexico, more than 3,500 km in total, his face tenses up. “It seems that the ‘narcos’ are particularly targeting Cubans and that the Mexican police are very corrupt,” she worries. “Be careful, don’t dress well. Don’t wear branded sneakers. That’s how the Cabezons (the big heads – the Mexicans) spot you,” her niece interrupts. Marisbel takes her head in her hands. “A single woman like me. What did I get into this mess? If the Americans had agreed to give me a tourist visa, I wouldn’t have to leave illegally,” she explains.
Marisbel’s adventure began nine years ago, when her son, Pedro, a young cardiologist, left Cuba for a five-year medical mission in Venezuela. There he married a Venezuelan and deserted his mission after three years. The newlyweds then left to live in the United States where they have resided for six years. Prohibited from staying in Cuba because of desertion, Pedro decided to bring his mother. She hasn’t seen him in almost a decade, nor have her two grandchildren.
More and more retirees are returning to work to improve their pensions and replace young people who go abroad. (Hector Lemieux)
“This country has been emptied. Only the old ones are left. Even the Jineteras (prostitutes) have left,” says Elisabet, a young Havanese. A challenge for Cuba. While in 1970 around 9% of the island’s population was over 60, this number has risen to 22% by 2021. “By 2030, the proportion of people over 60 will exceed 33% “, underlines a report of the National Office of Statistics of Cuba.
More and more retirees are returning to the labor market to improve pension incomes eroded by hyper-inflation, but also to replace the younger expatriate generations. The Ministry of Education has thus hired 5,000 retired teachers in 2021. Orlando, 83, sells the official Communist Party daily, Granma, at his newsstand. “I only work in the morning to keep myself intellectually alert, because the percentage I get paid on each sale is ridiculous,” says Orlando, a retired tobacco worker. For lack of young people, Havana has lost its passion for life. The orchestras fell silent. Rue Obispo, a long pedestrian artery favorite with tourists for its stalls and cabarets of traditional music, is now very sad.
*Names have been changed.