So, let’s play with your imagination for a bit.
Let’s say you’re one of the most infamous passport and identity offices in the world. A Venezuelan rendition of Hell, with a long story of corruption, bureaucracy, and all related plagues.
The passports you distribute are among the most expensive in the world, surpassed in price only by a handful of others — and yet, the actions of the regime you’re proudly part of have significantly tarnished the nationality that the passport represents when it comes to Consular and migration affairs, to the point that it’s very much scorned and frowned upon.
At your worst, it used to take years for a Venezuelan to get a new passport — unless, of course, that person was willing to shell thousands of dollars behind the table to the right contact that could “expedite” things.
Despite that, or perhaps because you couldn’t possibly get any worse, you have sort of managed to improve things, and that roughly $215 passport now only takes about a month or so to get for people still in the country. Those living abroad are still out of luck, and may take months or even years to renew theirs — even though they tend to be the most urged for it for numerous reasons.
So, in a way, despite your glaring flaws as an institution, you’ve improved things, at least at a local level. That’s commendable, I guess.
What do you do now?
You break the whole thing down and make it worse for as many as possible, of course.
The tale of Venezuelan passports is a modern horror story, just ask any Venezuelan and they’ll tell you that much using their own words. It’s got its ups and downs, moments where things work that are vastly outshined by the overwhelming amount of times when things simply do not work, resulting in an uphill battle to get something that is, by law, their right to exercise one’s identity.
Between the high costs of a passport (roughly $215 if you’re in the country, more if you request it abroad at any Venezuelan consulate or embassy), the unstable website, cases of people receiving their passports with the wrong info on them, and cases of the website eating your payment but not actually processing it are some of the most common problems people have faced recently.
Last year, the ID office’s systems were abruptly shut down, as the Venezuelan regime switched control of the platforms from Cuban hands to an Argentine-based company with ties to the socialist party, and which has been handling the software and hardware used in our “free and fair” elections.
There are a few of rumors surrounding the reasons for the switch, including money and juicy contracts, of course, but also power grabs and allegations of “loss of data,” specifically in a range of ID numbers that supposedly, contain the bulk of “fake” identities used in electoral rigging — nothing that can be publicly confirmed beyond hearsay, though.
During that transitory period, a lot of people abroad were left at high risk of losing their jobs, as without a valid passport they couldn’t renew their work visas, and some of them were in the process of renewing their passports when the shutdown happened.
I have a close friend that went through this, thankfully, he was able to get a new passport in time once the system was back up — although he had to pay all of the fees again, as the first payment, made before the platform was taken offline, was not processed and his money was outright stolen.
After the return of the platform, waiting times did eventually improve, and people, myself included, would eventually be able to get their new passports within a month or so.
And then, about a month ago, the website was taken down, and the entire platform was replaced with a brand new system that’s been the new source of headaches.
When it came back, people immediately noticed that the website now asks for your birth certificate data, including actual place of birth (hospital, clinic, house, etc), and a bunch of more information that wasn’t asked before before you can request anything.
This information is now also mandatory to request an appointment to renew your National ID card, the most important piece of documentation for citizens of this country, as you need it to do basically everything, including buying things. Before the change, getting a new ID card was simply a matter of going to an office at early midnight hours, waiting in line for hours, and getting a new one. Now you have to submit a bunch of info to be able to schedule an appointment someday.
The new system showed a “queue” of over 15,000 to enter the site most of the time. The rather long line immediately drew the attention of the tech savvy, who realized that the counter was fake and it didn’t represent any queue whatsoever — it was just displaying a random number between 15,000 and 19,000.
Tertuliando con los panas sobre el "nuevo SAIME" nos encontramos con esta belleza: una función que nos dice que no puedes entrar porque hay N cantidad de personas en cola, pero el número N es un número random entre 15 y 19 mil.— Jesus Lara (@phenobarbital) March 16, 2023
En vez de dedicar su esfuerzo en hacer algo bueno. pic.twitter.com/MNQhnEv8C1
What’s even funnier is that tapping arrow keys would throw a random number at you.
Further digging into the code revealed a “Enabled VIP” attribute, make of that what you will.
The previous system’s proclivity to go offline at literally any moment is a problem that still persists, and as such, one Venezuelan took it upon himself to build a script that will check if the site is down and will notify you via email when it’s up, so you can rush and, if the stars align and God’s grace blesses you on that moment, you may finally get that appointment
Momento Venezuela:— Jorge Taberoa. (@TaberoaJorge) March 22, 2023
Hice un script en python que verificará cuando la página del SAIME estuviera disponible, y que me notificará con un correo. pic.twitter.com/uvPXAxoV92
If installing Python and all that is not your thing, Telegram bots that serve the same function are openly available for all. When it comes to getting an appointment, the story repeats: People abroad have it much harder than those requesting an appointment within the country.
As is characteristic of this country nowadays, the official social media accounts of the Venezuelan regime will show you that everything’s fine and dandy — which is completely different to the experience of many users that have to deal with constant errors, glitches, and many other problems that prevent them from successfully requesting their appointments.
Of course, many of these problems, such as incorrect data, inability to reset passwords, change your account’s email, and others can be solved, for a price, if you contact the right person, that hasn’t changed at all, and neither has the 10+ hour lines to renew your ID card.
I sure dodged a bullet getting a new Venezuelan passport a couple weeks before these changes, and once I’m outta here I don’t see myself using that passport much, so I got lucky, I guess.