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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