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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006, 06:30 GMT 07:30 UK
'World's oldest man' dies in Cuba
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Havana

Benito Martinez (file image)
Benito Martinez said he came to Cuba from Haiti in 1925

A Cuban man who claimed to be the oldest person in the world has died in hospital at what he believed was the age of 126.

Benito Martinez, whose age was never proved, was the star attraction of a Cuban government campaign to promote healthy lives for its oldest citizens.

He was absolutely certain that he was born in Haiti in 1880.

Mr Martinez had long enjoyed being living proof that it was possible to live happily to a very ripe old age.

Until his last months, he led a relatively active life, tending plants outside his one-bedroom house, visiting the local old people's home and being more than happy to demonstrate that being 120-plus did not mean you could not dance.

Toothless grin

He was born in Haiti and is believed to have come to Cuba in 1925 at the age of 45 as a farm labourer.

He worked for a while on a ranch in eastern Cuba, which happened to be owned by Fidel Castro's father.

His neighbours remember the man with the broad toothless grin as always being very old.

He never married, something which together with a life of hard work, fresh vegetables, not too many cigars and little alcohol, he attributed to being the secret of a long life.

Mr Martinez was the leading light of Cuba's 120 club, an organisation which aims to promote healthy living for the elderly.

The Cuban government, which takes great pride in the fact that the country's average life expectancy is 77 years, the same as the most developed nations, tried but failed to uncover baptism records or a birth certificate in Haiti.

For that reason Benito Martinez was never officially the world's oldest man. But he died convinced that he was.

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