So, last Thursday I decided to get my Carnet de la Patria, ok I didn’t decide it, it was more like peer pressure. You see, the night before, Pinino, the “communal leader” that always organizes CLAP day in our building, was going through every apartment with his clipboard. He was making a list of every person that wanted to get a Carnet de la Patria, the new ID card Maduro just invented.
Pinino is cool, he is not chavista, just someone who is very active in the community, he helped us get the CLAP IDs when Maduro invented those, and he was reserving a day for us during the the Carnet de la Patria drive being held at a nearby school, for all the people in my building. He asked me if I wanted to sing up, pen and clipboard in hand, I didn’t want to leave him hanging, so I gave him my name and ID number. How bad can it be anyway? If they are going one building at a time, it’ll be fast and organized, and It’ll be only us, the neighbors.
Pinino told me I should be there at 6:00 am, but I got up at 6:30. My mom wasn’t home, she was already in line. At about 6:40 my mom calls me, “they are going through the list, where are you? Don’t worry about breakfast, this will be fast!”.
So, I get dressed as fast as I can and I rush out the door. I can see a small line in front of the school, about 15 persons, a totally endurable line, but my mom told me over the phone that our line was the one around the corner, at the side-entrance of the school. Probably an even-shorter VIP line, I think, after all I was in Pinino’s list made.
Oh, Carlos-from-last-week, why are you always so naïve?
The most outrageous part is that no one really knew exactly what the Carnet de la Patria is for.
There are probably around 200 people crowded around the entrance, but I can make out at least 3 different lines. There’s a line for the elderly and disabled, that’s the longest, another for the non-disabled, and another for my neighbors. After a while, they split the line of the neighbors in two, one for the elderly and disabled neighbors, and one for the non-elderly and disabled neighbors. My mom goes into the elderly one and gives me her spot, she is with my best friend’s mom and Julio’s wife (remember Julio? I wrote about him). I am fifth in line, I think.
It’s 8AM they haven’t opened the gates, people start complaining. The lady that sells corn and cachapas, complains about missing a day of work. She has a daughter, in third grade or something, in Fe y Alegría, that always helps her sell her food.
The man that lives on the ground-floor level of my building says the same thing. Have you seen one of those pictures of Venezuelans waiting in line and looking miserable? Imagine if you knew every face in the frame, it’s even more depressing.
About an hour later they let everyone in, the elderly and the elderly-neighbor lines are shuffled to a hallway inside the school. They put the rest of us below a mango-tree in the school’s green area. Pinino tells us they are going to call on the elderly first and then us, and we just need to be patient.
That’s a good chance to bond with my neighbors, people I’ve seen all my life but never talked to. The only problem is that everyone has better things to do, and don’t want to waste their day hanging out under a freaking mango tree.
The most outrageous part is that no one really knew exactly what the Carnet de la Patria is for.
Everyone keps telling me they are getting it just in case. “You’re gonna need to start showing the Carnet for everything: opening bank accounts, paying bills… just imagine this is your new ID” That’s what Jenny tells me. She is the daughter of Julio.
“It’s for the Clap bags” A girl that lives in the second floor tells me.
“You’ll need it to get benefits from the government, cellphones, home appliances, everything” The man behind me adds.
One chamo, who is just about to start collage, tells me he is getting it just in case they ask him for it when getting his passport. He is thinking of leaving the country, can you blame him?
Manuel (I’ve mentioned him before too), tells me he will just use the Carnet if he loses his ID.
My phone battery dies, so I lose track of time, but at around 11AM I go to see my mom in the priority elderly lines. I want to give her some bread Jenny shared with me. There is a lot of screaming, everyone, including my mom, is complaining that they have things to do, that they’ve been there since 4AM. For a moment, I just stay there with my piece of bread, the sight of my mom, complaining about her right to get the Carnet de la Patria stuns me, she hasn’t had her breakfast yet, just like me, and doesn’t really know what the Carnet was for either.
I just stay there with my piece of bread, the sight of my mom, complaining about her right to get the Carnet de la Patria stuns me.
My mom tells me the line hasn’t moved an inch, and they are just helping people coming from the other entrance (remember the totally endurable 15-people line I saw on my way to the school). My mom gives up and goes home, Dilia (Julio’s wife) had already left at that point.
At about noon, a lady approaches the mango tree and takes some of us to a classroom, where we will be also made to wait, but in a more comfortable setting. They finished helping the people that were left over from yesterday and will start with us.
I sit in a child’s desk, a pupitre, I expect it to be a tight fit, but I can get in just fine. The old lady in front of me isn’t as comfortable, she is too big for her pupitre. There is no air-conditioning, just some slow-moving ceiling fans, so everyone is starting to sweat. I ask the old lady why is she getting the Carnet de la Patria for. She tells me that she needs some hard-to-find medicines, and heard that the consejos comunales will start selling them, but only to the people that have the ID.
The classroom is just another line. Every once in a while, someone comes to take the people of the first row of pupitres with him, and a new batch of people come from the mango trees.
A lady needs some hard-to-find medicines, and heard that the consejos comunales will start selling them, but only to the people that have the ID.
Some take the opportunity to have their lunch in the classroom. I don’t have a phone to call someone to bring me food, and I can’t leave to my apartment literally across the street to eat. I could lose my spot. I try to avoid looking at other people’s food so I don’t get hungry. It doesn’t work.
At about 3 pm I am finally in the first row of pupitres, and they call me. They take us to another classroom; it is another line. This one is even more crowded and I am sitting on the floor. For two hours the line doesn’t move, no one is coming to call on the people in the first row of pupitres. An old man enters the classroom selling ice-cream pops, chupi-chupis. I have a yellow one, my breakfast. I would’ve eaten my lunch, a purple chupi-chupi, but he ran out. He starts talking about religion, and how everything that is happening in Venezuela is happening because people have strayed from the path of God. Some people are nodding along with his speech, “that’s right” someone says.
Everyone is getting restless, complaining about the lack of organization. This is the order: Outside, mango tree, Classroom A, Classroom B, and then Carnet de la Patria, but they are only tending to the ones under the mango tree, that’s why the line isn’t moving.
People demand respect. They don’t complain about the existence of the stupid Carnet de la Patria, nor about the self-coup d’état that is happening at the moment, they complain about the organization of the line.
“We are first, we’ve been waiting since four in the morning, there are people that came at midday, fresquitos, and you help them first. Esto es un abuso!”
People don’t complain about the existence of the stupid Carnet de la Patria, they complain about the queue.
Everyone gets back out of classrooms A and B, and form a single line, that way they can be on the look-out for any funny business. Everyone is saying that the leader of the Consejo Comunal and owner of the ID card printer, is letting in her own people.
The people from the mango tree come and formed another line in another hallway. Now there are only two lines, and everyone makes sure they are helping the same number of people of each line. Five and five.
“Why don’t they call on ten at a time? Ten on this side and ten of the other side, that way is faster,” someone says.
I see my mom who is just arriving and add her to the line, just in front of me, when no one is watching. That line goes painfully slow, and people are constantly complaining and offering their own ideas on how to better organize the line. There is a military officer with an assault rifle keeping an eye on everyone, he doesn’t say a thing, he is just there.
At about 6:45PM they finally call on me and my mom. They ask questions about the misiones, do you have a pet? (Misión Nevado), have you ever taken a bus de los rojitos? (Misión Transporte), have you ever been to a CDI? (Misión Barrio Adentro) that sort of thing.
Oh, and they ask for the name of the Consejo Comunal and the name of the CLAP (I have no idea what that is). I practiced those answers in the line about a hundred times, “Consejo comunal: Libertadores de América, Nombre del Clap: Teresa de la Parra”. They also ask if I belong to PSUV.
I get home at about 7PM, it’s already dark outside, and the first thing I do is drink water and charge my phone. That’s when I find out about the TSJ’s rulings and the autogolpe. Not a single person in the line had mentioned it.
In these faraway lands of Puerto Ordáz people are too busy trying to get a piece of plastic that does absolutely nothing, the political scandals are but a distant noise, a win for Maduro if you ask me.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.