Last October’s municipal election in Brazil with some 100 million going to the polls is seen as a victory, by many political analysts, for the elderly. One example is engineer Heródoto Bento de Mello, 84, who was reelected mayor of Nova Friburgo, a town with 200,000 inhabitants near the city of Rio de Janeiro.
In the city of Itaperuna, Rio de Janeiro state, Claudio Cerqueira Bastos, was reelected for the third time at the age of 88.
The oldest candidate elected in these elections was Susumo Itimura, age 90 (he will be 91 in March), who won reelection as mayor of the municipality of Uraí, in the southern Paraná state.
Brazil’s national electoral tribunal (TRE) issued a statement saying that “throughout the country of 783 candidates aged 65 or more 205 were elected as mayors.”
Analysts are saying that these results mean that many voters are evaluating candidates beyond their chronological age but based in the creativity and vigor of their ideas.
Engineer Heródoto Bento de Mello in Nova Friburgo openly called people to vote on the “velhinho” the old man. He beat much younger candidates by a landslide victory, which shows that many younger voters responded to his ideas.
Sociologists are saying that these elections represent a blow to prejudice against the elderly and their marginalization by society from a productive life.
The electoral victory of so many elderly is seen in Brazil as a kind of sociological and cultural revolution in a society that idolizes youth, with the mass media constantly pushing the beauty and value of eternal youth and even associating that with products they want to peddle.
This is common not only in Brazil but most Western societies which unlike Eastern societies tend to marginalize the elderly, sometimes throwing them into sub-human asylums, sometimes having them suffer psychological and physical abuse at home.
Except for an elite, retirement benefits in Brazil are insufficient for many elderly to live the sunset of their lives with dignity. Many old people do not receive pensions sufficient to buy food and needed medicines. It is not unusual to see interviews on TV of elderly men and women saying they have to choose between buying food or medicine.
Thus the October municipal elections are seen by many as a show of respect for the elderly proving that old people like Heródoto Bento de Mello the mayor-elect in Nova Friburgo, Claudio Cerqueira Bastos, of Itaperuna, Susumo Itimura, of Uraí and many others were chosen due to the creativity of their ideas for running their respective cities and not because of their physical appearance as elderly people.
Perhaps Brazil is weaning itself away from the “eternal youth” concept that places on the altar physical beauty, youth above wisdom and life long experience. The mass media and young people often forget that God willing they too will get old. As is often said in America: “There are only two sure things in life. Death and taxes.” And many people “escape” from taxes but not from death.
With the growth of the information technology era including computers and automatized equipment and machinery many jobs that previously required physical strength are now available to elderly people with mental vigor.
According to Brazil’s national geographic and statistical institute (IBGE) during the last decade people of 65 or more have increased by some 47% in a society that now has around 190 million inhabitants. IBGE estimates that now there are around 19 million people age 65 or above in Brazil.
Many of these elderly are poor. A minority is lucky and is supported financially by their children. Many live in “medieval” elderly homes that seem something from the middle ages, are filthy, and offer little or no medical assistance and little unhealthy food.
It is not uncommon for elderly people to die waiting in line for hours at public hospitals which do not have sufficient medical doctors or medicines and facilities that are in a horrendous state.
Peter Howard Wertheim is an independent journalist based in Rio de Janeiro.