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Puerto Rico cuts entertainment perks, free tickets for elderly

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A night at the theatre — or an afternoon of baseball — will now take a bigger chunk of cash from the pockets of Puerto Rico's elderly.

Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla on Thursday signed a law that eliminates mandatory free passes to people 75 or older during events at public installations. It also raises the age at which people get a 50 per cent discount — to 65 from 60.

Puerto Rico's entertainment industry had been pushing for changes to the 1985 law, arguing that so many elderly citizens were snatching up cut-rate tickets that it was stifling productions and hurting the economy, while forcing ticket prices higher.

"With the approval of this measure, we boost economic activity and create jobs," said Garcia, who is trying to revive a struggling economy.

The law has an unusually broad effect in Puerto Rico because many major theatres and sports venues are publicly owned, including San Juan's main baseball stadium and several prestigious theatres.

Puerto Rico's Association of Producers for Public Events said the amendment will help generate jobs and more performances. Some elderly citizens were disappointed, however.

"This is a crime," said Maria Rodriguez, a 63-year-old retired heavy machinery operator from San Juan. "Where are we going to get the money from if we live off a pittance?"

But Primitiva Martinez, 71, said she wasn't bothered by the change, given the belt-tightening forced by the island's nearly eight-year recession.

"In a way, I accept it because of the situation we're in nowadays," she said. "People have to eat."

The island of 3.6 million people has seen steady growth in the share of people 65 and older, which stands at roughly 15 per cent. That segment of the population increased by 28 per cent from 2000 to 2012, and 2011 was the first time in recorded history that Puerto Rico's population was older than that of the U.S., according to the island's Institute of Statistics.

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