Things That Matter

Husband Is Forced To Carry His 81-Year-Old Wife Six Hours To Collect Her Pension Because The Government Has Failed Them

Sometimes we read stories on the Internet that reveal the best and the worst of humanity. Such a case happened in Peru, a country that, like most places in Latin America, presents disgusting socioeconomic inequality.

Yes, you have the high-end restaurants in Lima that are ranked as some of the best in the world and are over $100 for a tasting menu, but you also have the rural indigenous populations living in poverty. For decades, indigenous Peruvians have been dealt a terrible hand and regardless of who sits in government (and Peru has gone through everything, from neoliberal bullies to even a president of indigenous origin), they are often forgotten. 

A recent story brought to light the precarious situation in which millions of Peruvians (and Latin Americans) are forced to do the impossible to make ends meet. 

She is 81-years-old, he is 77-years-old, and they are alone in the world, so he had to carry his sick wife so she could collect her pension.

Peruvian social media was recently shocked by the story of Ricardo Campos Haro and his sick wife, Victoria Vega Medina. Every two months, the couple takes a perilous three hour journey so Victoria can collect her pension. He carries his wife using a large cloth and keeping the balance with a cane. Ricardo believes that a bus ride would be detrimental to his wife’s health.

In an interview, the man said that if there is a car crash his wife might not survive it and that when she travels on a vehicle she gets a terrible nausea that cannot be controlled with medicine. Then there is a three hour journey back home. The pension amounts to 250 Peruvian soles, which is roughly $75 USD. Yes, you read that right. Next time you have a #firstworldproblem remember this figure. Most of the world’s population lives on that or less. 

This story isn’t “sweet”: it is an indication that there is something seriously wrong with the system.

Ricardo and Victoria travel from the town of Queros to Tayabamba, the capital city of the province of Pataz. Some in social media romanticized this story as an example of eternal love, of the real commitment of a marriage en la salud y en la enfermedad. But the fact is that no one should have to endure this kind of pain just to survive. There is something wrong with a system that makes people risk their lives and shed any ounce of dignity for a government allowance that is barely enough to get by. There are a little over 3 million senior citizens in Peru (over 60), which represents roughly 10% of the population. 

Once Ricardo became famous online, he was granted a power of attorney to collect his wife’s pension. 

After their case became viral on social media and was broadcast on news channels, the director of the Pension 65 program, of which Victoria is a beneficiary, provided Ricardo with a power of attorney to collect his wife’s pension by himself. In an interview, he stated that he had tried to sort out the paperwork but it was not possible for him to work within the time frame that the office demanded. There also needs to be better information programs for older folks to understand bureaucratic processes, particularly if they live in a precarious situation. 

This seems like a happy ending, but it is far from ideal.

 Credit: YouTube. Diario El Comercio videos

Ricardo himself is vulnerable, an elderly citizen who should be treated with more respect and dignity. He is an elder, caray! In an interview, he said that his own body “is completely falling apart”. The mountain area of La Libertad (quite an ironic name, meaning Freedom) in Peru’s Northwest is one of the prime examples of Latin American inequality. Many of the older folk that need to collect their checks also face adversity and are impaired when it comes to freedom of movement.

But the story triggered online discussions around the availability of social programs to the dispossessed.

We like this user’s take on the situation: people are citizens, and those who are poor need much more help. She also pointed out that far from being the exception, seeing elderly people travelling great distances to collect their checks is the norm. It is also common to see long queues in the state owned bank on paydays. There are over 500,000 senior citizens in the program. Other users asked if this is what the Peruvian government judges as justice when it comes to aid programs. According to census data, 21.7% of the Peruvian population lives in poverty. In rural mountain areas, however, the figure reaches 48%.

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More Than 1,200 Women And Girls Have Gone Missing In Peru During The Pandemic And Officials Think They Know Why

Things That Matter

More Than 1,200 Women And Girls Have Gone Missing In Peru During The Pandemic And Officials Think They Know Why

Rodrigo Abd / Getty Images

Apart from combating the Coronavirus, Peru has suffered a heartbreaking increase in the number of missing women and girls. Just as hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets to demand an end to gender-based violence, the Coronavirus hit and those same marches have had to be put on hold.

Now, as millions of women are forced to stay at home under strict lockdown orders, they’re spending more time with potentially abusive partners or family members. Many experts believe this combination of circumstances is leading to an increase in domestic violence as hundreds of women in Peru have been reported missing since the start of the pandemic.

Hundreds of women and girls have gone missing since the start of the lockdown.

In Peru, hundreds of women and girls have gone missing and many are feared dead since lockdown orders were put into place to help contain the spread of Covid-19. According to authorities (including Peru’s women’s ministry), at least 1,2000 women and girls have been reported missing since the start of the pandemic – a much higher figure than during non-Coronavirus months.

“The figures are really quite alarming,” Isabel Ortiz, a top women’s rights official, told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday. “We know the numbers of women and girls who have disappeared, but we don’t have detailed information about how many have been found,” she said. “We don’t have proper and up-to-date records.”

Ortiz is pushing the government to start keeping records so that authorities can track those who go missing – whether they are found alive or dead and whether they are victims of sex trafficking, domestic violence or femicide.

The women’s ministry said the government was working to eradicate violence against women and had increased funding this year for gender-based violence prevention programs.

Like many Latin American countries, Peru has long suffered from reports of domestic violence.

Credit: Cecile Lafranco / Getty Images

The Andean nation home to 33 million people has long had a domestic violence problem, but the home confinement measures because of the pandemic has made the situation worse, said Eliana Revollar, who leads the women’s rights office of the National Ombudsman’s office, an independent body that monitors Peru’s human rights.

Before COVID-19, five women were reported missing in Peru every single day, but since the lockdown, that number has surged to eight a day. Countries worldwide have reported increases in domestic violence under coronavirus lockdowns, prompting the United Nations to call for urgent government action.

According to the UN, Latin America has the world’s highest rates of femicide, defined as the gender-motivated killing of women. Almost 20 million women and girls a year are estimated to endure sexual and physical violence in the region.

Latin America and the Caribbean are known for high rates of femicide and violence against women, driven by a macho culture and social norms that dictate women’s roles, Ortiz said. She added, “Violence against women exists because of the many patriarchal patterns that exist in our society.”

“There are many stereotypes about the role of women that set how their behaviour should be, and when these are not adhered to, violence is used against women,” she said.

Before the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of women throughout Latin America, including Peru, were staging mass street demonstrations demanding that their governments should act against gender-based violence.

Meanwhile, the country is also struggling to contain the Coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: Cecile Lafranco / Getty Images

Despite implementing one of the world’s longest running stay-at-home orders, Peru has become one of the hardest hit countries. As of August 11, Peru has confirmed more than 483,000 cases of Coronavirus and 21,276 people have died.

Hospitals are struggling to cope with the rising number of patients and healthcare workers have protested against a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

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Desperate For Work, Immigrant Workers Are Collecting The Bodies Of Covid-19 Victims

Things That Matter

Desperate For Work, Immigrant Workers Are Collecting The Bodies Of Covid-19 Victims

Hector Vivas / Getty Images

Countries across Latin America are struggling to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, Latin America is now considered the epicenter of the global outbreak, as countries in the region are ravaged by the virus. From Brazil to Mexico, government responses have varied widely and adherence to social distancing guidelines has been difficult for communities with little in the way of a financial safety net.

Meanwhile, Latin America is still experiencing a refugee crisis as Venezuelans flee their country for better opportunities in Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and even Mexico. This has led to many migrants being forced to take less than ideal jobs as ordinary work opportunity have dried up as the economies have been hit hard by the pandemic.

In Peru, migrants are collecting bodies of those who have died from Covid-19 in order to make a living.

Despite Peru’s early action to contain the pandemic, the coronavirus has spread like wildfire through the country. More than 390,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus so far. Meanwhile, the country is a destination for Venezuelan refugees, with at least 870,000 who have ended up in Peru, working low-wage jobs to make ends meet or to send funds home to impoverished loved ones.

One of the jobs these migrants are working is to collect the bodies of those who have died from Covid-19. It’s a grim job but they earn $500 a month for their efforts, nearly double the minimum wage in Peru. They work up to 19 hours a day, seven days a week.

Most of the bodies they collect are from poor neighborhoods, from homes where people can’t afford to hire a funeral director to handle the burial. There have been more than 13,000 deaths from Covid-19, and the public health system is collapsing under the weight of the grim toll. What’s left for the poor is a death with little dignity.

At the city’s El Angel Cemetery crematorium, many of the staff handling bodies also are Venezuelans.

“The Peruvians don’t do it. It’s tough,” said Orlando Arteaga, who works seven days a week, earning the money he needs to support three children in Venezuela and a 2-year-old daughter in Lima. He told CNN he never imagined he would see so much death, but that “somebody has to do it — and we need work.”

Peru has been hit hard by the outbreak and its death toll continues to rise.

As of July 28, Peru has seen more than 390,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and there have been 18,418 deaths related to the virus. These numbers have skyrocketed in recent weeks. In fact, at the beginning of the crisis, Peru appeared as a model for other countries in the region.

Peru was praised early on in the pandemic for its swift and decisive response, buffered by an enviable fiscal cushion. But four months later, the government’s disjointed execution of its strategy has made the country a cautionary tale for how not to fight Covid-19. Early on, Peru’s government imposed a strict lockdown that is only now being eased. A few days later, a fiscal package of more than 10% of GDP was announced, including cash transfers to the poorest third of the population, credit support for businesses and, most importantly, expanded funding to the health sector.

And yet, Peru’s record on dealing with the pandemic has not only been disappointing – it is among the worst in the world.

Venezuelan refugees have been pouring out of the country looking for better opportunities and ways to support their families.

Although Venezuela hasn’t been hit hard by the Coronavirus, compared to other countries – although this is beginning to change. However, it’s experiencing an economic catastrophe that has left millions in extreme poverty.

The country has recorded almost 16,000 cases of Covid-19 and less than 150 deaths. But the country is being ravaged by fuel and electricity shortages, a near worthless currency, and political strife that has rendered much of the government useless.

Countries in the region are being dramatically affected by the fallout. Neighboring Colombia, for instance, has absorbed some 1.6 million Venezuelan refugees to date in a migration wave that is severely straining government resources and adversely impacting the national economy. Peru has experienced much the same dynamic, as — to a lesser extent — have countries like Ecuador, Brazil and Chile. That’s because eight out of ten Venezuelan refugees have remained in Latin America and the Caribbean, so local governments have been forced to bear the brunt of Venezuela’s unfolding collapse.

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