Looking into a mirror, Delia Barrios applies blush and lipstick – she wants to look her best for her 102nd birthday celebration, where she will be surrounded by loved ones.Barrios is one of some 2,000 people in impoverished Cuba who are 100 years old or older – a reality that has piqued the interest of experts.
“I don’t feel like I’m this old. I have a family … that loves me a lot. That helps me to feel good,” said Barrios, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer when she was in her 60s.
She defied the odds and then left Cuba in 1993, when the island nation was in the throes of a major economic crisis, for the United States, where her son lives.
But two decades later, Barrios suffered several falls and her doctor said she could no longer live alone.
Barrios – who says she “danced a lot” when she was younger, smoked and drank on occasion – came home and moved in with her granddaughter Yumi, who is now 59.
There are currently 2,070 centenarians in Cuba out of a population of 11.2 million – in a country where the average life expectancy is 79.5 years.
Those figures are comparable to those in many wealthier nations, despite the fact that Cuba’s average public salary is just US$30 a month.
The socialist country, where health care is free and doctors are numerous, now has a “120 Club” that encourages residents to aim for that ripe old age.
“Biologically, it has been proven that humans can live for 120 to 125 years,” said Raul Rodriguez, a doctor and president of the 120 Club, which was created in 2003 by Fidel Castro’s personal doctor, Eugenio Selman-Housein.
The club “tries to promote healthy lifestyles for all, because that is the only way to get to that age”, said Rodriguez.
The elderly generally receive a pension of just US$10 a month.
But the government has set up cafeterias for those unable to supplement that meagre amount with help from family members living abroad.