Mexico’s president on Monday defended a plan to provide pensions to indigenous people starting at age 65, compared with 68 for other Mexicans.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was elected last year after campaigning to help marginalized people, said those who question the idea should visit poor indigenous communities to see how residents live.
He said indigenous seniors in poor areas are often in worse health than city-dwelling counterparts due to decades of hard labor and poor nutrition.
“It is painful that a senior in the city, age 65, is better preserved than an indigenous person of 65 because they work, they eat poorly, they have to walk for kilometers and they suffer greatly,” López Obrador said. “How do we not give them special attention?”
Some criticized his plan for considering race in the provision of social benefits.
“Only a deeply racist government would parcel out a social program measuring aid according to people’s race,” tweeted Julen Rementeria, a senator representing the Gulf coast state of Veracruz for the conservative National Action Party.
López Obrador said he regrets that targeting indigenous people for aid would be considered discriminatory.
“If giving preferential attention to indigenous people is racist, put me on the list,” the president said.
López Obrador explained that his plan would enshrine in the constitution the indigenous seniors’ right to receive pensions at age 65.
He also envisions the right for poor children with disabilities to get government stipends and for poor students to receive scholarships under a constitutional reform that his government will send to lawmakers.