Pandemic in Cuba and People with Disabilities: Forgotten or Protected?

According to data published by the Cuban Ministry of Health, 7% of the population in the country has some type of disability; most are women. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 August 2020 — Under the sun, with her cane, Xiomara waited this Tuesday outside the Coppelia ice cream parlor in Havana to get the ten scoops of ice cream that each customer is allowed to buy, but neither her disabled person’s card nor the requests to the employee allowed her to enter without lining up. “We are only letting five physically disabled people pass a day,” the guard warned.

With a disability caused by the polio she suffered as a child, Xiomara now hears contradictory official arrangements in the lines to buy food and in the middle of a city marked by the rebound in Covid-19 cases.

According to data published by the Cuban Ministry of Health, 7% of the population in the country has some type of disability; the majority are women, the first cause being intellectual. To this is added that the nation has one of the oldest populations in Latin America, with 77 years of life expectancy.

This is the case with Xiomara, who at 75 years of age and in the face of the island’s own difficulties and these increased more strongly by the pandemic, her day-to-day life is an ordeal: “In one place they tell me one thing and, in another, another,” laments the woman. “There are stores in which they have not let me even join the line and others in which they have allowed me to enter without waiting,” she told 14ymedio.

With the arrival of the coronavirus, the authorities decreed a series of measures to control the lines, which include the presence of police and the distance between one customer and another, but also restrictions for the elderly, pregnant women and people with disabilities in the lines. “I live alone and the supposed social worker who had to be in charge of shopping for me lasted a week,” laments Xiomara.

In the neighborhood where she lives, near Belascoaín street in Centro Habana, several neighbors have offered to help her acquire basic products without leaving her home, but the strict controls to prevent coleros (people who stand in line for others) and hoarders from taking over large volumes of merchandise for resale on the black market frustrates the gesture of cooperation.

The Minister of Labor and Social Security, Marta Elena Feitó Cabrera, insisted that this type of people should be visited by the social worker who serves the community, and insisted that within vulnerable groups, the elderly who live alone and the disabled are prioritized. “There are to be visits to find out what problems the family nucleus presents and how the situation could be channeled or resolved by the social worker,” said Feito Cabrera, according to a report in Cubadebate.

Juan Goberna, an activist with the Inclusive Culture Network, complains that since the pandemic broke out, there has been no coherent policy to protect people with disabilities. “A policeman says there is an order that prohibits them from remaining in the lines and an administrator appears who organizes a separate line to insert them in the line.”

“We are only letting five physically disabled people pass a day,” warns one of the guards at of the Coppelia ice cream parlor. (14ymedio)

“In this matter there has been a lot of confusion. Even when some caregiver who is in charge of a blind person buys the products from the person under his care, then he cannot get in line again to acquire merchandise for himself because he can be branded as colero,” Goberna told this newspaper.

Xiomara is not surprised by these conflicting accounts. “At my age, and with a disability since I was a child, I have seen everything.” In the 90s she had a table where she sold different merchandise ranging from sunglasses to match boxes. Her disability gave her the legal “privilege” of being able to trade in products that were not allowed to other people.

“I looked for a supplier who was actually the owner of the business, I just had to be the face and show my disability card when the police arrived.” In those years, Xiomara received many offers to have “a table” in the portals of Galiano street, in the Fe del Valle park on the nearby corner with San Rafael, and even in the handicraft market for tourists near the Cathedral. “But now everything is disadvantaged.”

Complaints about the situation of people with disabilities and the lines during the pandemic have even reached the pages of the official press. Last June, the Juventud Rebelde newspaper published a letter from a reader who denounced the suspension of the priority for the disabled that was previously granted in the lines.

Alexis Pérez Bayans, a member of the Cuban Association of the Physically-Motor Handicapped (Aclifim), said that in the stores in the city of Cienfuegos people with disabilities are no longer allowed to buy without having to wait in long lines. “If there are provisions that protect me as a disabled person, why are they not met? Who changed them?” he questioned in his letter.

The Aclifim headquarters in Havana also has no answer to Pérez Bayans’ questions. “We have nothing established but that each case is different,” says an official of the entity by telephone. “The person with a disability has to go to see his area chief or someone from the district where he lives and explain his situation,” he details.

“They are the ones who can give him authorization to be on the street and to line up without problems, or in a different case a social worker guides him to help him with errands and other emergencies,” says the Aclifim official who declined offer his name. “But we do not have any established directions, it is a decision of the authorities.”

At the end of the day on Tuesday, Xiomara managed to get the long-awaited scoops of ice cream in Coppelia. “I found a neighbor in the line and he put me in front of him. What I did not achieve as a person with a disability, I did through friendship,” she acknowledges.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.