“If you truly wish to make someone suffer then put them through the torture of obtaining any document at a Venezuelan public office.” —An acquaintance.
Imagine for a moment that you’re the Revolutionary, Bolivarian, Anti-imperialist, Chavista, and Socialist Venezuelan Government (I didn’t made those adjectives up). You present yourself to the world as an immaculate paragon of democracy and freedom, the ones in the right side of history, the ones fighting the good fight—you know, all that ideological stuff that I’ve been hearing for nearly twenty years now.
You do your Socialist thing for a few years and lo and behold! Your utopia has turned out to be so fantastic that people are desperately fleeing en masse in what has now become the worst South American migrant crisis. Your complex media machine portrays a different tale, but despite its tendrils reaching out in and out of the country you cannot cover the sun with one finger.
You certainly don’t care if the people fleeing your disaster are entering other countries illegally or without proper documentation—I mean, it’s their problem, not yours, right? You just gotta cover your ears and eyes and let those other countries deal with those migrants.
But there are Venezuelan men and women, who, as desperate as they may be for an escape out of this catastrophe, want to do things right. They want to migrate legally and go through the entire process following the rule of law so that they may arrive to the destinations and exert their careers and professions. Or they just want to be able to board a plane and travel for a multitude of reasons: health, education, leisure, or even force majeure.
So, how do you stop them from committing the unforgivable sin of leaving the country? How do you stop this migrant ‘brain leak’? And most importantly, how do you do it whilst not physically preventing people from leaving our borders because that would destroy your ‘democratic’ charade? It’s simple, you bottleneck the entire process and build obstacles using the absolute control of the institutions at your disposal.
I’ve said it so many times before and I may sound like a scratched record—but here it goes again: Nothing works the way it should anymore, and I mean nothing. The government is aware of this fact and has found ways to weaponize the bureaucracy they’ve single-handedly created over the years in order to slow down migrants.
The collapsed institutions, the lack of staff, the lack of investment in infrastructure, the lack of materials, an abundance of excuses, institutionalized corruption, hunger, the need to survive, and the surge in applications are some of the main ingredients of this recipe for disaster.
Today I want to focus in two of the biggest document chokeholds for people who desire to migrate legally to other countries: Passports and Apostilles.
The Passport Nightmare
The most crucial of all travel instruments, the only valid document (aside from specific international treaties) that shows that we had the fortune (or misfortune) of being born in this country.
Behold, the SAIME. The Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Foreigners; it’s the institution in charge of our identification documents. Just like every other public office, it has been plastered with socialist imagery and shrouded with the Supreme and Eternal Commander and Worker President’s cult of personality—a reminder that they answer to the Revolution’s ideology first and foremost. It has become one of the most corrupt institutions in this country.
Bribery and corruption are completely unhinged within its walls. While the concept of bribing an official to speed up your papers isn’t a new concept it has certainly gone out of hand in recent times.
You need to be mentally prepared to wait weeks—months even. Luck plays a huge factor here (unless you bribed your way). I’m going to start assuming that they just throw a dart at a board to determine when you will get your stuff processed because it is that erratic. And this is not limited to passports, even obtaining a new ID card can often be a headache.
And there’s nothing you can do about it…
In that sense, when the Venezuelan pseudo hipster band Rawayana recorded themselves inside a SAIME office thanking the officials for the “quick and good service when obtaining their passports” well—a shitstorm ensued.
A large amount of speculation was centered on the hypothesis that the whole stunt was part of the price they had to pay in order to get the coveted (and well within our rights) travel document.
SAIME does well use of the Government’s ability to come up with excuses, don’t forget that nothing is ever their fault. New passports or renewals are hard to come by, SAIME has come up with a myriad of excuses. The first and most used one is “Lack of materials”, of course, they blamed the Venezuelan citizens instead; according to their authorities “Venezuelans waste our resources because they get new passports and never use them.”
The Band-Aid fix to this mess is a passport extension. Under normal circumstances these should be a last resort thing but they’ve become the only viable way. Instead of getting a brand new passport all you’ll get is a sticker that extends the validity of your old one.
Thankfully, most countries are accepting entry of Venezuelan citizens whose passports present this extension.
Their new excuse is that these stickers are a way to “protect the environment by reducing CO2 emissions!” Yes, you can’t get a new passport because that wouldn’t be eco-friendly, comrades.
Going back to the bribery and corruption. There are reports that people are charging $1,000 to expedite your passport, an amount that’s out of year for pretty much everyone. A certain literally who Venezuelan e-celeb denounced that someone was charging $5,000 for a single passport with a ten day wait. I can’t verify it myself though.
Adding insult to injury, a few weeks ago the entire passport pricing scheme was changed, much to the dismay of Venezuela’s citizens. The cost of both renewals and extensions have been anchored to the infamous Petro cryptocurrency.
An extension now has a cost of 1 Petro, while a renewal or new passport going for twice as much. You may be wondering how much is a Petro, well the answer is simple my dear friend, a petro is worth whatever the fuck the government feels like.
When it was first announced, a Petro was worth 3,600 “Sovereign” Bolivares (360,000,000 Bolivares in the old scale), as of last week, it was raised to 4,362.30
For comparison, the sheer majority of the country earns wages that are equalized around the new monthly minimum wage of 1,800 “Sovereign” Bolivares. So if you want a passport extension you best be ready to not eat for over two months, if they raise the price again well…
As a final “Fuck you”, you can only pay for it via their website and they only accept credit card payments. The problem is that the sheer majority of Venezuelan credit cards have an absurdly low credit limit. Most cards have a limit of 500 Sovereign Bolivares, for comparison, a bottle of Coca Cola is now over 750.
My passport has less than six months before it expires, which according to international standards, its rendered invalid for any kind of visa. As if I didn’t had enough on my table this is another obstacle that I need to work out if I want to make it out of this country.
While I’d very much prefer to have a brand new one so I don’t have to worry about this mess for the next five years, that extension sticker seems like the path of least resistance right now. Once I finish out some tax paperwork that I have to fill before the end of the year I’ll focus onto this. I already have someone who will lend me a credit card in order to pay for my extension. Thankfully, my brother’s passport is still valid until 2021.
Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.
The Apostille Conundrum
Ah, Apostilles, a wonder that spawned out of the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents in 1961.
In normal circumstances, getting these stamped on your titles should be a smooth and painless experience. The entire process literally involves placing a stamp on the requested documents—or in modern times, slapping a printed foil sticker that serves the same purpose. Then along comes Venezuela.
Just like with passports, obtaining these is another Via Crucis.
First of all, you need an appointment obtained through a website, this is where the fun begins. The website is most likely hosted on some derelict Pentium IV toaster that’s held together by duct tape and crazy glue, because this crap is down 99.999999999~ percent of the time.
And even if the website happens to load, appointment slots usually become available on the 25th of each month—of course, that server gets obliterated. If the stars align and the website loads and all then you best start praying that there’s availability for the state you live at—because that’s another thing, not every office becomes available.
If you overcome all of these obstacles then you best request all of the ones you need at once. If you forgot a single one then you have to go through this torture all over again.
Want to see for yourself? Check the #Apostilla hashtag on Twitter. You’ll find from conversations about the subject to people simply giving up and offering cash for help with this disastrous website. Of course, you’ll also find people offering their assistance—for a price.
In my three years working at the diplomatic sector I became familiarized with the international standard process of Apostilles. It’s literally just receiving documents, check if they’re ok, and putting a stamp/sticker on it. That’s it, that’s all it takes.
We spend the entirely of 2017 getting Apostilles for all of my mother’s documents and titles. We started with hers because she was the one with the largest bulk of things by a long shot. In addition to her six medical titles she also needed Apostilles for a multitude of certifications and other documents that other countries require so that foreign Doctors can exercise their profession within their borders. (Some of these also had to be obtained through a torturous website appointment).
Even though she was still under chemo she yearned of a day when she no longer required it and we could move out together. It’s one of the things that kept her hopes high—alas, things happened differently.
After she passed away I had to trace back step by step, office by office, so I could retrieve everything that was hers. Fortunately, I was able to recover everything. Her Apostilles were halfway done…
My college degree is missing an Apostille, I also need to get an official document that shows that I have not committed a crime in this country, as well as one of these for my brother and his high school diploma. Once I’m done with the whole passport thing I’ll work on getting these.
Like the Stations of the Cross, this is a long and torturous path full of pain. But in the end there’s a happy ending—there has to be a happy ending. The things you gotta do to migrate legally out of this country…
Yes, you may say that Venezuela is in fact the Dark Souls of bureaucracy. There, I finally made that joke. Your move, Kotaku, Polygon, et al!
Thanks to A Sentient JDAM for helping me with my broken grammar <3