By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
When a then-30-year-old Rosario Hernández Jiménez first took a job as a biochemist for the Oaxaca branch of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) back in the early 1990s, she was impressed by the worker benefits her new position included.
Not only did the IMSS provide her with full medical insurance (it is, after all, the nation’s largest health insurance entity, providing medical care and pension programs for all formal private-sector workers) and a generous retirement pension (paid for, partially, with twice-monthly deductions from her paycheck), but it also offered a voluntary long-term savings program with matching funds from the employer to be turned over to workers in a lump sum upon their retirement.
For the next three decades, Hernández Jiménez worked diligently at her job, confident that when she reached her retirement age, she and her family would be well taken care by the IMSS, both through a monthly pension and her savings.
But when she retired in 2014 after 28 years of service, Hernández Jiménez was informed by the IMSS that while she was indeed entitled to her pension and continued medical care, her life savings had been “assimilated” into the institute’s pension funds and were no longer hers.
Hernández Jiménez was not alone.
Under an obscure law first approved in 2005 and implemented retroactively in 2015, more than 70,000 IMSS employees had their personal nest eggs through the IMSS matching savings program expropriated.
In some Mexican states, the workers were offered no alternative, but in Hernández Jiménez’s native Oaxaca, the local IMSS savings program manager (Afore) agreed to give the retiring workers their rightful funds … in exchange for a modest 70 percent handling fee.
In other words, workers who had put away 100,000 pesos for their retirement savings were offered a piddly 30,000 at the end of their service.
Nationwide, IMSS retirees began to mobilize, and on July 6, former employees from more than 12 states came to Mexico City to begin a massive sit-in in front of the now-defunct IMSS building on Avenida Reforma in Colonia Juárez, demanding a meeting with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).
On Wednesday, July 14, some of those IMSS retirees took to the streets in a massive but peaceful protest that blocked the capital’s main thoroughfares of Reforma and Avenida Insurgentes for several hours.
But so far, AMLO — who constantly brags about his concern for the elderly — has refused to meet with the IMSS retirees, saying Thursday, July 15, that while their situation “breaks his heart,” he does not feel that the retirees are entitled to the money since they are receiving monthly pensions from the IMSS (a quasi-governmental organization) and do not need “a second pension.”
“We aren’t asking for anything that we are not entitled to,” Hernández Jiménez, who is now the head of the National Alliance of IMSS Retirees and Pensioners (JubIMSS), told Pulse News Mexico as she sat on a cement bench in front of the tent city at the IMSS building on Reforma.
“This is money that we have been putting away, month-after-month, year-after-year, from our own paychecks. Now that we are older, we need that money for medical expanses, our children’s educations, to pay off our homes and so on.”
“What the president doesn’t seem to understand is that there is a difference between the money we paid into a retirement pension fund and money we paid into a saving account,” added Ángel Palestino Vilchis, a obstetrician-gynecologist from the coastal state of Veracruz who retired in 2019.
“We are open to dialogue and we want to find an equitable solution to this matter, but we need the president to hear us out. We are sure that once he understands the facts, he will agree to return our savings.”
But Rafael de la Rosas Ochoa, a former IMM human resources supervisor from the state of Coahuila, is not so certain.
“This case has been going on for years, and basically, the powers that be just seem to want to sweep it under the rug,” he said.
“We are talking about a lot of money, an average lifetime savings of about 400,000 pesos per worker.”
Hernández Jiménez said that the total amount in question for all the IMSS retirees’ savings is more than 27 billion pesos.
“This money is somewhere, or someone has spent it,” she said. “We want to know who.”
On Monday, July 19, Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero is slated to meet with the retirees, along with the current director of the IMSS, Zoé Robledo Aburto, and a representative from the Finance Secretariat.
“This money is ours, not the government’s, and we want it back,” said De la Rosas Ochoa.
“Is that so much to ask? If the government can expropriate our money, it can expropriate anyone’s money. This is a case that could set a precedence for the nation, and we are going to fight it to the end, even if it means taking it to the Supreme Court or the International Court of Justice.”