“After working all my life it’s hard to be a beggar,” Mr. Antonio said to me.
He’s 86 years old, his hair is white and his face full of wrinkles. He was born in Barinas but came to Caracas when he was 15 years old. When he was 30, he already had a small painting company with four employees and a lot of work. He got married, had two children, a nice house and a car. Now, he survives thanks to the money that his children send him from abroad. “It’s an uncomfortable situation, I’m a burden now,” he said.
“Venezuela used to be the land of opportunities. I didn’t have much, but my children were clean and well fed. They both went to college. Back then, if you worked enough, you could have a future. Now there’s no future ahead,” he said, remembering the “old Venezuela”.
Currently, he lives alone and he sold the family house some time ago. Now he lives in a small apartment; his wife died and his kids, all grown up now, are in Ecuador and USA. Both send money, when they can, to help their father. “Medicines are expensive, food is expensive and the pension is a joke,” he said to me in tears, in front of the bakery where he used to get his daily cup of coffee, now a forgotten luxury.
Since last week, the pensioners took to the streets to protest and ask for better benefits.
Senior citizens are dealing with the crisis with an insufficient pension, an absent family and without medicines. Our abuelitos have been forgotten amidst the crisis.
Since last week, unlike students and politicians, the pensioners took to the streets to protest and ask for better benefits. They require payment of the pension in cash, better distribution of medicine and access to adequate healthcare.
The protests started after a confusing announcement from Maduro, where he said that only pensioners with the carnet de la patria would be able to receive their pensions. A day before, Maduro said that the payment would happen through the Billetera Digital. The Billetera Digital is a platform to transfer payments through the carnet de la patria. To register for this virtual wallet, you must provide your ID number and carnet de la patria code. Logically, this implied that those who didn’t have the carnet wouldn’t receive their pension.
Senior citizens were upset with this imposed measure. “What can I do? Where do I go? Nobody listens to us anymore. It’s been 15 days since I received my money. I have to beg my friends and family for money to survive. The government has taken away the little we had. I feel I will die on the street,” a pensioner said in a video that went viral on Twitter.
“Should I get the carnet?” asks my neighbor, “It’s not fair, it’s criminal. I already have my ID!” she complains to me in the hallway, “I worked my whole life for my pension, that’s not a gift, it’s my right”.
Days later, the government said that it was all part of a big confusion and part of a media manipulation strategy. Turns out, elders don’t need the carnet to get their pension.
But the fight was not over…
According to the new economic measures announced by Maduro, elders are going to receive a monthly payment of Bs.S. 1.800… but they have only received Bs.S. 190 so far. “What can I do with that? Pay for a carton of eggs! I will spend the last years of my life living in complete misery,” my neighbor complained again.
“This isn’t enough for food or medicine,” says a grandmother in a grotesque line at a bank. After she left the bank she went to help a friend clean her shop. “She doesn’t pay me, but I can have lunch and dinner,” she explains. Even pensioners have to look for a tigrito in order to survive the crisis.
Elders are going to receive a monthly payment of Bs.S. 1.800… but they have only received Bs.S. 190 so far.
Maduro also blames senior citizens for the shortage of cash. “Some pensioners use their cash to sell it to the Colombian mafias,” Maduro said. “Do you think I have time to do that? I use the cash to buy food for a better price! In popular markets the prices are lower if you pay in cash instead of paying with a debit card.
“We have to keep protesting with the little strength we have left, there’s nothing else to do,” said an old man standing patiently in line.
Venezuela is no country for old men.
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