Cuba claims world's oldest man

Campaign News | Thursday, 10 February 2005

119 year old enters world record books

HAVANA Feb 9 - Cuba's "120 Years Club," inspired by President Fidel Castro to help Cubans live to a ripe old age, has claimed one of its members as the world's oldest man at 119.

Benito Martinez Abagan actually says he was born in Haiti in 1880 and came to Cuba in 1925 to work in the sugar cane fields and build roads. But both his memory and identity document, which shows him to be 123, are questionable, say officials.

Dr. Eugenio Selman-Housein, Castro's personal physician and president of the "120 Years Club," said experts are working to determine the man's exact age.

"We are sure he is at least 119, or a bit less. That still makes him the world's oldest living man at present," Selman said on Wednesday.

According to authenticated records the world's oldest living man is a 113-year-old Peurto Rican.

A dozen Cubans over the age of 100 attended Wednesday's first meeting of the club, which aims to extend longevity in Cuba through healthier diets, moderate exercise and plenty of motivation.

Cuba has a life expectancy of 77 years, the highest among developing nations and 24th in the world. That is five years shorter than Japan, where people live longest, on average to 82.

Cuba's Communist government points to its free public health system as the main reason Cubans live longer, and the target is to raise life expectancy to 80.

Castro, 78 and the world's longest-serving political leader, encouraged Selman to start the "120 Years Club" and the membership is growing, the doctor said.

"Cuba is the only country that has all the conditions people need to live to 120 years," he said. Stem cell research under way in Cuba could extend that limit, he added.

Club geriatrics expert Enrique Vega said a good genetic mix and Cubans' cheerful outlook contributed to their longevity. But Cubans still smoke excessively, exercise too little and hardly eat vegetables and fish, so there is room for improvement, he said.

For 103-year-old Agustin Gutierrez, the secret to a long life is a productive and sexually active life. "The more I worked the stronger I got, and there were many women," he said.

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