Pension hike not enough for Venezuelans to afford basic meals

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – When it comes time for lunch, Mabel Sequera and Juan González share a plate of noodles and beans at their home in a low-income neighborhood west of the Venezuelan capital. Their meager meal was a gift from a non-profit organization as the couple could not afford to feed themselves.

Sequeira, 72, and Gonzalez, 74, worked for years as a seamstress and driver to build their two homes and raise their four children. But now, after 50 years of marriage, they depend on donations for food, medicine and clothing.

The government last month increased their combined monthly pension from about $4 to about $60. But they have to multiply it by six to be able to buy a basket of goods.

“Now that they’ve got us up to 130 (each), we’re going to see how we manage with those 130 because that’s not enough,” Sequeira said in a statement on the pension in bolivar, Venezuela’s official currency and in which Referring to the payment of pension, he said. ,

In Venezuela, a pension is an amount paid monthly to workers who retire after they reach 750 weeks of Social Security contributions and turn 55 for women and 60 for men.

Since 1995 – years before Hugo Chavez introduced what he considered socialism to the South American country – pensions have been equal to the monthly minimum wage. Workers contribute 2% to 4% of their wages to Social Security while employers pay an additional 9% to 11% on behalf of workers.

The pensions of Sequera, González and millions of other similar retirees soared last month as President Nicolas Maduro raised the monthly minimum wage from about $2 to nearly $30, an amount insufficient to pay the basic items that needed to be paid. The cost was $365 in February. According to the Finance Observatory of Venezuela, an organization specializing in economic studies.

According to official figures, there are just over five million pensioners in Venezuela. Annual inflation, which slowed last year but still reached 686.4 per cent, has consumed his pension for years.

Although the country experienced severe shortages of food and hygiene items in the latter half of the last decade, prompting people to stand in long lines outside supermarkets to do what they could, store shelves are now well stocked. and display imported products. But the high prices set in dollars make it impossible for most of the population to afford the goods.

This dynamic depends on the remittances of more than six million Venezuelans to many older adults who have fled the economic, political and social crises of recent years.

Non-profit organizations and churches fill some gaps, but it is not uncommon to see elderly people selling candy or begging for money on the sidewalks of the capital Caracas.

“I have to manage to get food. It’s not easy, because you’re an age, you go out on the street and a lot of people look at you with contempt,” said 68-year-old Miriam Jimenez told The Associated Press after taking a plate of food at the soup kitchen. Elderly in Western Caracas. “There is begging on the streets. Sometimes a neighbor gives me something.”

In other South American countries, pensions range from $230 to $650, but amounts are usually less than the cost of a basket of basic items or the monthly minimum wage. In Chile, new President Gabriel Boric promised to increase the amount to $310, although it would remain below the monthly minimum wage of $435.

Luis Francisco Cabeza, director of Convite, a non-governmental organization focused on the care of the elderly in Venezuela, said social security should not be just a pension for the elderly population. This should also include access to medicines, medical care and entertainment, he said.

“Pension is a system that tries to protect you from the contingency of reaching old age,” he said. In Venezuela, the hospital system is precarious, so patients must bring all medical supplies to be treated.

Sequera has been diagnosed with two types of cancer this year, including a type of skin cancer that required an operation on her face. To pay for medical supplies, she sold two of her three sewing machines, which she used to fix neighbors’ clothes in exchange for money.

Pensioners protested dozens of times across the country last year. Some can be seen wearing broken shoes and torn clothes at the protests in the capital.

Sequeira and Gonzalez drank a cup of coffee after finishing a plate of noodles and beans for lunch.

“Today, (for breakfast) we ate the last little egg. We’re going to wait for another blessing to come there,’ Gonzalez said.

“For the night, God will provide,” said his wife. “And if not, have a glass of water and go to sleep,” lamented Gonzalez.

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