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Request for Information Leads to ID Card, Pension

  • Because of a logistical snafu, the government of Guatemala thought for nearly three years that Blanca Nieves Valdés didn’t exist.

  • Blanca Nieves suffers from dementia and has lived with her niece, Reyna Moscoso, for many years.

  • Without an identity, it was impossible for Blanca Nieves to collect her small pension.

  • After her niece learned about a Carter Center program that helps women make requests for government information, she enlisted the help of Carter Center information liaison Dina Moscoso in filing a request for information on how to get a new ID card.

  • A little over a year later, Blanca Nieves had a new card and was back on the government rolls.

  • The small pension she’s getting again helps pay for the medicines she has to take daily.

  • Blanca Nieves and her niece are just a little more secure now that she has her identity back. (All photos: The Carter Center/ L. Satterfield)

For nearly three years, 83-year-old Blanca Nieves Valdés didn’t exist.

She was living in a cozy house in the small town of San José la Arada, Guatemala, doing all the things that real people do — eating, sleeping, chatting, chores — but as far as the government of Guatemala was concerned, she was a non-person. The official record book containing her information was destroyed, so when the government changed its ID system, it didn’t issue her a new ID card.

And like that, her identity — and the small pension she received — vanished.

Blanca Nieves suffers from dementia and can’t live on her own. Since 1990, her caretaker has been her niece, Reyna Moscoso, a retired schoolteacher. Reyna had no idea how to go about getting her aunt an ID card. None of the social workers she talked to could help.

Time passed. They made do.

Then the president of a women’s group that Reyna belongs to attended a Carter Center-sponsored session about the right of access to information.

Carter Center studies have shown that women often can’t access government information as easily as men can, so the Center’s Global Access to Information program works with local partners in three areas of Guatemala to conduct sessions to make women aware of this right. It also employs information liaisons who help women file information requests and track the results.

Knowing of Blanca Nievesplight, Reyna’s friend told her what she’d learned at the meeting and suggested she ask Carter Center information liaison Dina Moscoso (a distant relation) for help filing a request to find out how to get a new ID card.

It took more than a year, but in January, Blanca Nievesofficial ID arrived. Three months later, she began getting her pension again.

“I was relieved,” Reyna said, “because now I was going to have another source of income.”

It’s not a lot of money — about 125 quetzales, or US$18, a month — but in a country where the minimum wage is around US$360 a month, it helps.

“We use it mostly for her medicines,” Reyna explained.

Blanca Nieves has had memory problems since the birth of her son (who died years ago), but she was capable of shopping and making meals until about two years ago, when she contracted chikungunya, a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes. Since then, she has virtually no short-term memory.

“We tell her things, and she forgets right away,” Reyna said. “It’s hard.”

Sometimes, she forgets she’s eating in the middle of a meal, and Reyna has to tell her to sit down and finish.

When Reyna tried to explain why she took on the difficult task of caring for her aunt, she began to cry: “She is the only family that I have left. My mother died; my father died. She is the only family left.”

Reyna remembers Blanca Nieves helping her mother clean and cook in her healthier days.

“Because of her memory issues, she doesn’t do much anymore. But she really likes to wash her clothes, so she’ll go outside and wash her clothes and hang them up, and when they’re dry, she puts them away,” Reyna said. “She used to like to dance; she liked to sing. I remember Blanca Nieves always singing. She still remembers songs from when she was younger and sings them.”

Reyna is happy that this woman who has lost so much of who she is has an official identity again.

And she is grateful to Dina Moscoso, The Carter Center, and its local partners who are supporting women as they make requests for information that has the power to improve their lives.

“I was ready to give up,” she said. “Dina’s work is really important.”

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