AP

Pension hike not enough for Venezuelans to afford basic food

Apr 9, 2022, 6:39 AM | Updated: 6:45 am

FILE - An elderly man sits on a plane made of cement at a park near a soup kitchen as he waits to p...

FILE - An elderly man sits on a plane made of cement at a park near a soup kitchen as he waits to pick up his free lunch in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 11, 2022. Venezuela has just over five million pensioners, according to official figures, but annual inflation which reached 686.4% last year has eaten up their pensions. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — When lunchtime comes, Maybel Sequera and Juan González share a plate of noodles and beans at their home in a low-income neighborhood west of Venezuela’s capital. Their meager lunch was a gift from a nonprofit organization as the couple cannot afford to feed themselves.

Sequera, 72, and González, 74, worked for years as a seamstress and driver to build their two houses and raise their four children. But now, after 50 years of marriage, they rely on donations for food, medicines and clothing.

The government raised their combined monthly pensions from about $4 to roughly $60 last month. But it would have to be multiplied by six for them to be able to buy a basket of goods.

“Now that they have increased us to 130 (each), we are going to see how we manage with those 130 because it is not enough either,” Sequera said referring to the pension in bolívares, Venezuela’s official currency and in which pensions are paid.

In Venezuela, the pension is the amount paid monthly to workers who retire after reaching 750 weeks of Social Security contributions and turning 55, in the case of women, and 60 for men.

Since 1995 — years before Hugo Chavez imposed in the South American country what he considered socialism — a pension is equal to the monthly minimum wage. Workers contribute between 2% and 4% of their salary to Social Security while employers pay an additional 9% to 11% on behalf of workers.

The pensions of Sequera, González and millions of other similarly situated retirees went up last month because President Nicolás Maduro increased the monthly minimum wage from roughly $2 to about $30, an amount insufficient to pay basic goods, whose cost in February was estimated at $365, according to the Venezuelan Finance Observatory, an organization specializing in economic studies.

Venezuela has just over five million pensioners, according to official figures. Annual inflation, which slowed last year but still reached 686.4%, has eaten up their pensions for years.

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

This dynamic leaves many older adults dependent on remittances from the more than six million Venezuelans who have migrated due to the economic, political and social crises of recent years.

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

“I have to manage to get food. It’s not easy, because you’re of an age, you go out on the street and many people look at you with contempt,” Miriam Jiménez, 68, told The Associated Press after picking up a plate of food at a soup kitchen for the elderly in western Caracas. “One has to beg in the streets. Sometimes, a neighbor gives me something.”

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

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

“The pension is a system that seeks to protect you against the contingency of reaching old age,” he added. 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 mend neighbors’ clothes in exchange for money.

Pensioners protested dozens of times across the country last year. At the protests in the capital, some could be seen wearing broken shoes and worn clothes.

Sequera and González had a cup of coffee after finishing the plate of noodles and beans for lunch.

“Today, (at breakfast) we ate the last little egg. We are going to wait for another blessing to come out there,” González said.

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              Roberto Carpio, 67, holds up an animal bone to symbolize that his monthly pension of about $30 dollars does not pay him enough to eat, during a protest demanding better pay for workers, pensioners and retirees in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, April 6, 2022, as police block protesters from reaching the vice president's office. Pensioners have protested dozens of times across the country, and at the protests in the capital, some could be seen wearing broken shoes and worn clothes. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
            
              FILE - An elderly man sits on a plane made of cement at a park near a soup kitchen as he waits to pick up his free lunch in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 11, 2022. Venezuela has just over five million pensioners, according to official figures, but annual inflation which reached 686.4% last year has eaten up their pensions. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)
            Maybel Sequera has coffee after eating a donated lunch from a soup kitchen with her husband at home in the low-income neighborhood of La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 7, 2022. 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 mend neighbors' clothes in exchange for money. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) FILE - Zenobia Ansualve, 88, eats lunch at home where she lives alone in Caracas, Venezuela, Aug. 18, 2021. Ansualve said she lives on her government pension, renting a room as well as donations because she cannot make ends meet, and gets help with grocery shopping and cooking meals. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) FILE - Architect Rudiar Almeida, 76, closes the gate to his home in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 10, 2021. Almeida said his monthly pension is equal to $2 dollars and it is not enough to buy food. He lives alone in what was his parents' home but does not have the money to maintain it. His only son emigrated to Colombia two years ago and has not heard from him since. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) Elderly married couple Maybel Sequera and Juan Gonzalez eat lunch at home in the low-income neighborhood of La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Their lunch was a gift from a nonprofit organization, as the seamstress and retired driver cannot afford to feed themselves on their monthly pensions and have to rely on donations for food, medicines and clothing. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) FILE - A bookshelf sits against a wall covered in mold in the home of 76-year-old architect Rudiar Almeida in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 10, 2021. Almeida sais his monthly pension is equal to $2 dollars and it is not enough to buy food. He lives alone in what was his parents' home but does not have the money to maintain it. His only son emigrated to Colombia two years ago and has not heard from him since. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) FILE - Seniors click their canes to say goodbye after getting their donated meals from a soup kitchen in La Vega neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 11, 2022. Venezuela has just over five million pensioners, according to official figures, but annual inflation which reached 686.4% last year has eaten up their pensions. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) Juan Gonzales waits for one plate of donated food for him to share with his wife Maybel Sequera at the soup kitchen "Alimenta La Solidaridad" in the low-income neighborhood of La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. The elderly couple worked for years as a seamstress and driver to build their two houses and raise their four children, but now they rely on donations for food, medicines and clothing. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) Maybel Sequera divides a donated plate of noodles and beans to share with her husband at their home in the low-income neighborhood of La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Their lunch was a gift from a nonprofit organization, as the seamstress and retired driver cannot afford to feed themselves on their monthly pensions and have to rely on donations for food, medicines and clothing. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) Two spoons lay inside a container after elderly retiree Maybel Sequera divided a donated plate of noodles and beans to share with her husband at their home in the low-income neighborhood of La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Their meager lunch was a gift from a nonprofit organization, as the seamstress and retired driver cannot afford to feed themselves on their monthly pensions and have to rely on donations for food, medicines and clothing. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) FILE - Seniors hold donated meals from a soup kitchen in La Vega neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 11, 2022. Venezuela has just over five million pensioners, according to official figures, but annual inflation which reached 686.4% last year has eaten up their pensions. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) FILE - Seniors cross a park toward a soup kitchen for a free meal offered twice a week in the La Vega neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 11, 2022. The monthly pensions of retirees increased from roughly $2 dollars to about $30 in March, an amount insufficient to pay basic goods, whose cost is estimated in February at $365, according to the Venezuelan Finance Observatory, an organization specializing in economic studies. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) FILE - Carlos Blanco, 84, a retired ambulance supervisor, holds a sign that announces his monthly pension payment of $1.50 dollars during a protest asking for an increase in payments amid world record-breaking inflation in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. Venezuela has just over five million pensioners, according to official figures, but annual inflation which reached 686.4% last year has eaten up their pensions. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) Maybel Sequera folds clothing that a client left her to repair in her living room in the low income neighborhood La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Sequera and her husband worked for years as a seamstress and driver to build their two houses and raise their four children, but now they rely on donations for food, medicines and clothing. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) Maybel Sequera opens a lunch container of rice, salad and one fried egg to share with her husband Juan Gonzalez who brought it home from a soup kitchen in the low income neighborhood La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Their lunch was a gift from a nonprofit organization, as the seamstress and retired driver cannot afford to feed themselves on their monthly pensions and have to rely on donations for food, medicines and clothing. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

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Pension hike not enough for Venezuelans to afford basic food