Seniors block Venezuela streets demanding pension checks

A man counts bills to make a food purchase in Venezuela which is in a massive economic and political crisis (AFP Photo/Federico PARRA)

Caracas (AFP) - Perched on plastic lawn chairs and leaning on canes, scores of retirees protested Wednesday to demand payment of their retirement benefits in crisis-hit Venezuela.

About 200 senior citizens blocked traffic on Urdaneta Avenue, a stone's throw from the presidential palace.

"They are not paying people's whole pension. We are just getting two million" bolivars, worth 60 US cents at black market rates, said Basilio Octo, 68.

That might get him 15 eggs but it's a quarter of his monthly income in a country with dizzying hyperinflation.

It could top 13,800 percent this year, the IMF says.

Currency notes are in very short supply; in some markets food and other basic goods can be purchased for three times less if the buyer pays cash.

So seniors are desperate to stretch their income by paying in cash.

Octo says he often has to get up at 3:00 am to go wait outside the bank and withdraw money.

"If we have to pay with a card, we are getting robbed," Octo explained. What could cost 10,000 bolivars in cash costs 40,000 with a card.

"Mr President (Nicolas Maduro), it's time for you to take responsibility," he said.

With the economy barely functional, food in short supply and hunger rampant, the seniors took turns chanting "WE WANT CASH."

On June 20, Maduro raised monthly pensions for seniors to 4.2 million bolivars. But a pound of meat costs five million.

"A banana and a plantain is what I can get with that money," grumbled Eulice Bolivar to AFP.

"The elderly are out protesting because they need their money. They need their food. There is too much hunger in Venezuela," she said.

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