FRASQUIA: The world’s oldest person alive could be dethroned by another man, almost a decade older. Carmelo Flores Laura lives high in the Bolivian mountains, chews coca leaves, cooks on open fires and says he’s 123 years old. Flores Laura was born on July 16, 1890, according to his government identification card. Bolivia’s Electoral Tribunal confirmed his identity and his age.
“His residence is in Frasquia, and as a profession he is a farmer,” the office told AFP. According to the document, this Bolivian Methuselah was born in the same year as Charles de Gaulle and Ho Chi Minh, and 13 years before the Wright brothers flew their airplane in Kitty Hawk. According to the Guinness World Records, the world’s oldest person whose age could be verified was a French woman, Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122. The official world’s oldest man is 112-year-old Salustiano Sanchez Blazquez, a Spaniard living in New York.
Government officials in La Paz said that they will approach Guinness to update their records with information on their aged compatriot. Flores Laura speaks only Aymara, the language of the Andean natives of Peru and Bolivia. He is 1.6 metres (five foot three inches) tall, has no teeth, and walks with some difficulty but without a cane. He does not wear glasses. When he goes outside he wears a wool cap known as a chullo that covers his ears under his broad-brimmed hat — protection from both the bitter cold and the bright sunlight of the Bolivian altiplano. Frasquia is a quiet cluster of adobe-brick buildings 4,050 metres above sea level and some 100 kilometres northwest of La Paz. The hamlet is near Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, and at the foot of the snow-capped Mount Illampu.
There is a school, a small clinic and access to electricity, but the nearest grocery is a three-hour walk away in the town of Arista. Onions, potato and broad beans are grown, watered by runoff from Illampu’s snow. Flores Laura arrived in Frasquia as a young man from a nearby village searching for work, and fell in love with a local widow. The couple married and had three children. “She died a long time ago,” Flores Laura tells AFP, speaking through an interpreter. His wife was 107 years old when she died, according to Flores Laura’s 27-year-old grandson. Two of the old man’s children have also died. “I only have one surviving son, Cecilio,” Flores Laura said, moved by just mentioning his name. Cecilio lives in the working class town of El Alto, just outside of the capital La Paz. Flores Laura also has 14 grandchildren, and 39 great-grandchildren. With a mouth full of coca leaves, Carmelo Flores Laura recounts passages of his long life in short bursts, speaking slowly and with difficulty.