Born at the turn of the past century, Maria Felix is old enough to remember the Mexican Revolution but too old to get the bank card needed to collect her monthly 1,200 pesos ($63) welfare payment for the elderly.
Felix turns 117 in July, according to her birth certificate that local authorities recognize as authentic – which could put her in the ranks of the world’s oldest living people.
But Felix went three months without state support for poor elderly Mexicans after she was turned away from a branch of Citibanamex in the city of Guadalajara for being too old, said Miguel Castro, development secretary for the state of Jalisco.
Welfare beneficiaries now need individual bank accounts because of new transparency rules, Castro said.
“They told me the limit was 110 years,” Felix said with a smile in the plant-filled courtyard of her small house in Guadalajara.
Felix, who sells candies from a stand outside her home, got by on her modest sales but was delighted when Castro became aware of her case, delivering a check and an apology to her in person.
“Sooner or later, God provides,” said Felix, waving a wrinkled hand. “Here I am.”
In an emailed statement, Citibanamex, a unit of Citigroup Inc, said Felix’s age exceeded the “calibration limits” of its system and it was working to get Felix the bank card as soon as possible. It said it was adjusting its systems to avoid a repeat of the situation.
Castro called the situation “absurd” and said his office would keep giving Felix checks until the problem was resolved.
Felix, who has outlived six of her 10 children, has survived tougher times. She said her father was killed and her mother kidnapped when she was a young child and that her two siblings later disappeared in the 1910-1920 Mexican Revolution.
“I grew up like an animal on the street,” Felix said. But she also looked back fondly on the past, frowning as she described the rudeness she said was rampant today.
“Before you were poor but happy, in peace,” Felix said.
Felix credits her longevity to God and described a diet of stewed beans, nopal cactus, greens and the Mexican fruit pinguica – although she added she had trouble digesting beans these days.
Alma Salas, the head of the Jaliscan Institute for the Elderly, said Felix was in surprisingly good health and had refused a wheelchair she tried to give her last year – preferring a cane instead.
The world’s oldest living person is now 117-year-old Violet Brown of Jamaica, according to the Gerontology Research Group. Only 2 percent of claims by people who say they are over 115 are verified by a process requiring multiple documents, according to the group’s website.
Felix said she did not spend much time worrying about her welfare payments.
“Whether they give me help or not, I’ll be as happy as I have been all of my poor life,” Felix said.
(Reporting by Reuters TV in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Mitra Taj in Mexico City; Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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