Brazil Elects Over 200 Seniors as Mayors, But for the Elderly Life Is Dreary

Mayor-elect Susumo ItimuraLast 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.

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