The face of poverty: James Maduro’s story “How do they expect me to live?”

POSTED: 07/9/14 5:59 PM

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – James Maduro is not one to complain, but he loves to tell stories with a glint in his eyes. The 72-year old lives in Belvedere – wheelchair-bound after losing both of his legs to diabetes-induced gangrene. “The day they bury me, I will probably push up the lid of the coffin and shout, Hey, I’m not done yet,” he says. His body may be broken, but his spirit is strong as ever.

I visited Maduro not so much because he is in a wheelchair, but because he has problems with the receiver’s office. When we were done talking about that issue and I wanted to take a picture, I could not get away from that one logical question: how did Maduro end up in his wheelchair? When he started talking about this topic, there were times I wished I had never asked, until it dawned on me that he had just given me chapter and verse about his incredibly strong and vibrant spirit.

Let’s deal with first things first – the receiver’s office. Maduro says that he moved several times in Belvedere, from number 23 to number 16 and from thereon to his current hangout – 66. “As a good citizen, I always reported my change of address to the census office,” he says.

Two years ago, Maduro received a letter from (then) finance Minister Roland Tuitt. “It told me about the pardon for arrears in income tax,” he says. “After that letter, I did not hear anything anymore.”

Everything changed on May 27 of this year: “A little girl came to my door with a letter addressed to me that she had found on the street. It was a letter from the receiver’s office that the pardon for the arrears in income tax had been suspended. I had to pay within fourteen days after the date of the letter. But the letter was dated April 10, and I saw it for the first time on May 27.”

What followed was almost predictable though it still took Maduro by surprise: “On Tuesday the little girl gave me the letter and on Friday the bailiff was on my doorstep to serve the papers for a lien on my bank account at the Windward Islands Bank.”

He even remembers the time: 11.25 a.m. Maduro soon found out that the receiver had not wasted any time. “I sent my daughter to the bank to get some money out of the ATM, so that I could buy some food, but the account was already blocked.”

The following Monday, June 2, Maduro went to the receiver’s office. A pain, that trip was: “If you are in a wheelchair, it is almost impossible to get in there.”

He spoke with a lady called Patricia and told her that he had sent an objection-letter to the tax office. “In that case there is nothing I can do for you, she said. Then I went to the tax office in the Vineyard Building where a friendly lady told me: Mister Maduro, we cannot do anything about this. The receiver will have to make an arrangement with you.”

Maduro was disappointed, to put it mildly. “This is really inhumane what they did. How do they expect me to live, to eat and to pay my bills?”

He went back to the receiver, who now demanded a 6-month review of his bank account. “I brought it to them the same afternoon and after that I did not hear anything anymore. Patricia said that the receiver was waiting for a report from all banks, even though the WIB is the only bank where I have an account.”

Two weeks later, Maduro paid another visit to the receiver to provide an overview of his living expenses and income. He receives a pension from PCN (Pension Fund Caribbean Netherlands) of 1,900 guilders and an old-age pension of 1,000 guilders. But his rent is already 605 guilders, electricity takes 200 to 350 guilders, water another 25, food between 400 and 500 guilders – which is modest at best. Cable TV and internet together take another bite of 185 guilders out of his budget. Maduro also has a son in the Dominican Republic whom he supports financially.

The receiver’s office remained mum, so three weeks later Maduro paid yet another visit. Now he has received notice that he will have to pay 840 guilders per month for nine months straight, starting on July 31. “I cannot pay that,” he says. “And besides, as long as that lien is in place, I am unable to touch my money. Look in my fridge, there is nothing there. I have no food.”

In spite of all this, Maduro has signed the agreement with the receiver’s office to pay. “They should have lifted the lien three weeks ago,” he says. That office is not pro-active. I get the impression that there is not much coordination in that office. One says this, the other that. It is abusive.”

Maduro spent a lot of his active working live in Statia, where he once was the acting lt. governor, the acting prosecutor, the director of tourism, chief of protocol and head of the government information service. He had a radio station – PJE3 – and a newspaper – The Emporium Review. He is the co-founder of the Statian Historical Foundation.

Finally the wheelchair, how did that happen? I won’t go into all the details, though I have to say that Maduro’s story made an incredible impression. First, obviously, because the details are quite horrible. In 2006, he lost his right leg, after what seemed like an innocent infection went completely out of control and turned into life threatening gangrene.

Less than two years ago, on August 17, 2012, the Weekender published a story about Maduro’s handicap. The picture shows him sitting on his settee, and his left leg is still there. That is gone too now, after a similar infection started to affect the leg from the toe and up.

Medical care in St. Maarten does not look good in this story. Maduro had to fly to Colombia for treatment and the inevitable amputation of his second leg. He describes the doctors that treated him in St. Maarten as “murderers” which may not be true literally, but it sure describes how he feels about the medical neglect that could have cost him his life.

And Maduro is not ready yet to call his earthly existence a day. He has enough to do, as becomes evident when three Spanish-speaking visitors show up on his doorstep at the end of our conversation. Maduro smiles: “It is time for their English lesson.”

Oh, and the picture? I wanted to respect Maduro’s privacy and take the photo from the waist up. “No, no,” he says firmly. “Take the complete picture. This is who I am.”

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