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Despite Viñales’ treasures, poverty hurts retiree

Despite Viñales’ treasures, poverty hurts retiree
Juan Echevarria, 83, watches tourists arrive to audacious Cuban salesmen
Author: Hatzel Vela, Reporter, hvela@Local10.com
Andrea Torres, Local10.com Reporter, atorres@local10.com
Published On: Oct 26 2015 04:50:25 PM EDT Updated On: Nov 03 2015
07:17:00 PM EST

PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba –
A land of emerald green surrounds the “poblado” of the Valle de Viñales,
one of the world’s best kept ecological gems, according to the United
Nations World Heritage list.

All is fairly quiet in Viñales’ downtown plaza, named after national
hero Jose Marti, until the tourists get off their buses. Cuban
entrepreneurs are ready to bombard them with their sales pitches.

A man holding laminated scenic photographs of the valley rushes French
tourists. He tells them he is opening the doors of his home for a price.
His promises: A private bathroom, hot water, a television and a
refrigerator.

“Look, this has a view to the mountains,” he said.

When the tourist rejects his rental offer, the man turns to selling
something else.

“I am a singer,” he said.

Sitting on a bench nearby was 83-year-old Juan Echevarria, who in true
Cuban cowboy fashion wore a woven “sombrero” and held up a cigar.The
province of Pinar del Rio is known for growing some of the best tobacco
in the world, but Echevarria smokes a “puro” of less quality. The best
quality is for foreigners.

Aside from the tobacco farms, the area’s attractions also include caves
to explore, a colorful mountainside mural to honor the pre-colonial
natives and plenty of charming architecture.

But even when tourism money flows into the valley, Echevarria said he
doesn’t feel much hope, because he struggles to survive — even though
he has worked hard all of his life.

He worked in coffee plantations, with cattle, and he remembers waking up
after midnight to milk cows. But he no longer has the strength to do
hard labor, so he has retired.

About 18.3 percent of the 11.3 million Cubans living on the island were
older that 60 years old in 2013, according to government statistics. In
2030, authorities expect it to increase to 30 percent. Although they
have access to medical visits, their pension remains low.

Some retirees said they get up to $15 monthly pension. But even $15 is
not enough. Most of the retirees said they work on the side selling
peanuts, cigarettes or whatever they can to get supplemental income.
They scrape by with their monthly rations, which can last for about a
week. Echevarria said he gets about $8 a month.

“That’s barely enough to eat,” he said.

NEW PLANS

A Cuban official recently told Granma that they are focusing their
efforts on ecoturism. They want it to be a destination for
thrill-seekers and plan on hiring tour guides for hikers and climbers.

During the first week of December, the area will host the Titan Tropic
Cuba, an international mountain biking event that was last held in
Morocco as the Titan Desert. The event’s registration already has
participants from Panama, Venezuela, Colombia and Costa Rica.

Source: Despite Viñales’ treasures, poverty hurts retiree | Cuba Coast
to Coast – Home –
www.local10.com/news/cuba-coast-to-coast/despite-viales-treasures-poverty-hurts-retiree/35971176

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