By Rosalba O'Brien
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Thousands of elderly people in Latin America, Spain, and elsewhere who are dependent on a Venezuelan state pension have been forced to find other ways to survive after payments stopped last year, some of those affected told Reuters.
An estimated 1,000 retirees in Chile are no longer receiving pension income from Venezuela. Many of them are returned exiles who fled the 1970s right-wing military dictatorship for what at the time was a booming, relative safe haven.
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Depending on the type of pension, some have not received any money due in 2016, while others have been waiting for well over a year, said 73-year-old Sonia Laborde, who heads up an association of Venezuelan pensioners in Chile.
"Many (pensioners) don't have a profession or work, they are sick, they are dependent on that money to eat and pay for their daily needs," she told Reuters this week.
A plunge in oil prices and a collapsing socialist economy have left Venezuela suffering from chronic product shortages.
While at home Venezuelans spend hours in line to buy basic goods, the problems have rippled out to affect around 12,000 pensioners living abroad in countries that include Spain, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and the United States. Some are Venezuelans; others are foreigners who spent decades working in the country.
Government supporters say Venezuela improved pension benefits during the rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who channeled oil revenue into social programs.
Many emigrants received their pensions at a favorable exchange rate as a result of currency controls. But with the fall in oil prices, Venezuela has limited hard currency payments for everyone from multinational corporations to travelers and retirees.
Just under half of the affected pensioners are in Spain or the Canary Islands, said 80-year-old Miguel Megias, a Spanish citizen who worked for five decades as an engineering professor in Venezuela and now is teaching English in Granada to make ends meet. He also runs a blog to share information with those affected globally.
"The system worked very well until 2014. Then the situation changed radically," he said on Monday. "Many of us haven't been paid in a year."
"Every person has to find a way to survive - in some cases they have family, others turn to the Red Cross or other charities."
Megias and Laborde said they have received no response from Caracas despite repeated phone calls, letters and emails.
A foreign ministry committee is looking into their case, Laborde said, adding that one sympathetic opposition lawmaker told her that President Nicolas Maduro considers their claims "not a priority".
Venezuelan government officials contacted by Reuters declined to comment.
In Santiago, 74-year-old Margarita Valls said she had no choice but to pack up her belongings and leave her rented apartment, going to live with a friend in southern Chile.
"I don't even have one peso," she said, close to tears. "I worked a lot in Venezuela, I gave it a lot, I was there 37 years."
"We are old people, we have no way of working."
(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien in Santiago, Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Reuters TV in Santiago)