SAN JOSE DE BOLIVAR, Venezuela – Juan Vicente Perez Mora has spent a 111-year lifetime in Venezuela’s Andes region, where he was born, grew up, worked, got married and fathered 11 children.
Still leading an austere yet happy existence and regarded as the oldest person in his homeland by a long way, he now is awaiting certification as one of the world’s 10 longest-living people on Earth.
Born in 1909, it is no surprise that he was named after the country’s most famous person at that time, dictator Juan Vicente Gomez (1857-1935), who also was a native of the western state of Tachira and ruled the country with an iron hand for nearly 30 years during the now-supercentenarian’s childhood and early adulthood.
Currently in a wheelchair, “El Tio” is a man of few words who carries himself with an easy smile and professes his faith by praying several times a day and listening to Mass on the radio.
Juan Vicente married at age 28 – when the country was forging its reputation as an oil-rich nation – and he and his wife, in keeping with the customs of that era, steadily expanded their family in the ensuing years.
Ediofina was his life companion until death finally separated them in 1998.
Many others close to him – including five of his children – also have passed away in a country where most people die in their seventies. He has had no friends of his generation for the past three decades, spending most of that time practically confined to his home and leading a life devoid of luxury or ostentation.
Juan Vicente has never been examined by a geriatric physician. His relatives know he has shrunk because of his hunched posture, but they are not sure how much he weighs or why his toe nails fester, a condition that is practically his only health concern.
He has not taken any medicine for years. When he does fall ill, his daughter Maria Perez de Domador, who cares for him at home and constantly worries that his health is deteriorating, uses locally grown herbs to cure him.
“Bathing him is the hardest thing for me,” the 66-year-old woman, who communicates with her father most frequently, shaves his beard every other day and understands his gestures and slurred requests, told EFE.
Juan Vicente, who has never left his homeland and only paid one visit to Caracas, has spent more than 40,000 days in San Jose de Bolivar, the same small town in Tachira state where he worked the fields to feed his family in the days when farming was central to Venezuela’s economy.
Since turning 100, he has been witnessing Venezuela’s severe economic crisis of recent years, seeing his purchasing power erode and the public health system deteriorate at a time when he needs it the most.
His pension is now equivalent to just $20 a month, while the monthly food basket costs roughly $300.
Like all Venezuelan families, Juan Vicente’s must perform a delicate balancing act so that there is coffee in the morning and the occasional empanada (a breaded pastry) in the afternoon.
Statistics show that only 2 percent of all centenarians reach the age of 110, at which point they become known as supercentenarians.
As the only person believed to have crossed that threshold in Venezuela, his family now is seeking a certificate that recognizes him as the world’s sixth or seventh oldest person.
The world’s oldest verified living human being is a 117-year-old Japanese woman, Kane Tanaka.
What are Juan Vicente’s hopes for the future and how does he want to be remembered?
No one knows for sure, but his daughter believes his biggest wish is to live even longer, which makes sense given the joy he showed on his 111th birthday in May.
Although Juan Vicente largely remains true to a life of frugality and simplicity, his love of life shines through when he sings a nostalgic heartfelt “Ay ay ay ay” from Mexican ranchera singer Antonio Aguilar’s “Ojitos verdes,” a song that apparently occupies a prominent place on his life soundtrack.