Original art by @modográfico

It was New Year’s Eve and although people everywhere were “celebrating”, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing. It wasn’t my aunt’s best wishes or my boyfriend’s texts; it was something I had been waiting for since November. At 12:15 a.m. of New Year’s Day, I got the message: “Hay citas para apostillar.”

I’m told normal people in the first world have never heard of an apostille; it’s a delightful piece of international bureaucracy dating back to 1961, that makes official documents issued in one country legally recognizable in another kind of like a passport for your official records. Long story short, if you want to get out of the country, you have to apostillar.  

Like everything else in Revolución, legalizing and getting the apostille (literally, a mere inked seal) on your documents is a pain in the ass. I’ve gone through the process twice; last time, I stood in line under the burning sun for at least five hours until someone came out of the office and said the system was down and all appointments would be rescheduled. Thank God I queued for just five hours.

After that, I got into a WhatsApp apostille group (we have groups for everything around here) and now I know so much more about trámites. I think I’m officially a middle aged señor.

I interviewed the administrator of that group I’m currently in, to figure out why anyone would spend time trying to selflessly help people on their way out.

I stood in line under the burning sun for at least five hours until someone came out of the office and said the system was down and all appointments would be rescheduled.

The first time Adriana joined a WhatsApp group was the day she was standing in line to legalize her academic documents at the Higher Education Ministry. “I chatted with the people next to me and I got the link for the group.” She carefully absorbed every bit of information possible, from where to get stamps to the time patterns where the passport, apostille and other systems are working on.

“I became the administrator for six WatsApp groups at one point” she says. Each group has over 200 members, so imagine them all ringing at once. “I’ve helped old ladies get appointments for their apostilles, people who you never thought would have to go through this.”

Getting your legalized birth certificate at the main civil registry can take up to 21 working days and, in some states, they’ll ask you for an appointment with the apostille system beforehand, just to process it.

The procedure for any sort of document from autonomous universities can take months, not including the legalization at GTU (Gestión de Trámites Universitarios) in the Higher Education Ministry. There are never enough appointments and the process is available, for now, only at Caracas.

Then comes the apostille. An excruciating, inhumane, humiliating process. Although you can do this on every state’s main civil registry, these offices are severely understaffed and the system offers far too few appointments for many, many applicants. Obviously, it crashes all the damn time, and once the appointments run out, you’ll have to wait up to three months to get another shot.

Bottom line: In Venezuela, the system works against you.

And what happens if your really need your documents? You are desperate, let’s suppose. Is there a way to skip the lines, the appointments and the numerous trips to Caracas?

The system crashes all the damn time, and once the appointments run out, you’ll have to wait up to three months to get another shot.

In Venezuela, you can always count on someone willing to profit from the government’s inefficiency. In comes the gestor, a character who knows his way around the registry and the ministry, who will get your papers done in no time, si te bajas de la mula, of course.

At the registry, secretaries and workers (classical gestores) used to take cash as payment for their “acceleration services.” Now they prefer payments in basic goods, like food or groceries.

Now, the gestor will fix your problems, unless he doesn’t. Hundreds of unwary folks end up cheated, their documents ruined by a fake apostille, if there’s even an answer. The system created to help citizens get their paperwork legalized is filled with gaps, bugs and glitches that allow for gestores and corruption to exist along with the official institutions. Users are desperate enough to pay.

Does the regime take pleasure in knowing people are sitting helplessly in front of a computer on New Year’s, hitting the f5 button compulsively, trying to book a date so they can try to get their documents in order, to run away from this godforsaken shithole, to, one day, have a chance at a normal life? Do they feed on people’s despair?

The talk at the New Year’s table was how everyone is leaving. Back at work in January, along with the traditional “Feliz Año” came the new national motto, “¿Y usted, ya apostilló?”

“Estoy en eso.

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Head of the Church of Martha Stewart: I bake therefore I am. Táchirense: Almojabana and quesadilla lover, "toche" and "juemadre" user. Pastelitos de queso con bocadillo fanatic and overall gochadas supporter. Also doctor —as in proper MD— and pobresora universitaria too.

31 COMMENTS

  1. Is not really a fake apostille, they take the apostilles from the people who missed the appointments and they give it to the people who paid, the thing is that the apostille is a personalized document so you would have one with a different name, some embassies and most universities doesn´t notice it.

    • This may be my “no vale yo no creo” moment, but I don’t think they go for a conscious plan to deter emigration. Keeping would-be emigrants in means shutting off a pressure relief valve, and they already signalled a desire to go after remittances.

      So, I think this is typical corruption/bureaucratic inefficiency.

    • well, at the very least the former, considering it’s been a pain for years now. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there was also some of the latter nowadays

    • They could make it easier if they wanted to. I don’t think this is plain stupidity. Why open the web site on new years eve? That’s just plain evil.

      • The site doesn’t “open” on New Years, the established trimester quota resets that day.

        However, I’m currently trying to get an appointment (success I just got my “cita” printed) and it has taken getting up at 2 or 3 am because the system doesn’t function on regular human hours.

        • This is not true. It hasn’t been for a while.. when appointments for February became available it wasn’t on Jan 31 at 12am.

          I hope you got your appointment. 🙂

  2. “.. to figure out why anyone would spend time trying to selflessly help people on their way out.”

    Whether they know it or not, Castro-Chavismo loves it when people leave Klepto-Cubazuela. It’s an important part of the sinister Cubanization Master Plan: Get rid of troublesome “opositores”, critics, educated people, smart people, the best people.. let’em all out!

    For the Criminal Narco-Tyranny it’s a fantastic win-win situation: 4 or 5 Million less people to feed, to worry about, to police and repress; 4-5 Million people who will be sending Billions of fresh US$ and Euros back to Kleptozuela, some of which the Chavistas can steal. REMESAS.. What has sustained Cuba for Decades. What now sustains Millions of Venezuelans too. – (Do you know any family in Kleptozuela without some family member abroad who is NOT receiving them?) (How do you think they survive on laughable ‘minimum salaries’ without Mega-Guisos everywhere and/or Remesas?) –

    I’m actually surprised Chavismo doesn’t make the process of getting the Hell out much easier. It’s incredibly beneficial and profitable for them. Another testament as to how dumb and incompetent they are.

    What many people fail to grasp at this point is how important and how utterly devastating this massive brain drain has been, and will be for an Entire Generation, or more. Think about it: About 20% of the population, mostly the very best, brightest, most educated, hard-working people leave. And they will not return, rest assured, the vast majority will not return. That leaves a population of sheep, mostly the least educated, semi-corrupt, leeches, thieves, or just clueless poor people, dependent, brain-washed, doomed. Usually, not always, lo peor. Most of the leaders, future entrepreneurs, future artists, doctors, architects, the best of Venezuela’s society GONE, and gone for good. Chao pescao. That’s incredibly damaging to the country, a very deep wound, and it will take many decades to start healing.

    No one of course talks about that, but just as serious as hunger, malnutrition, poverty, lack of medicines, crime, if not more is the Massive Brain Drain that took place. It will change whatever’s left of Venezuela for ever. Perhaps the worst legacy of this Chavista Kleptozuelan nightmare in 2 words: Brain Drain.

  3. “In Kleptozuela, you can always count on someone willing to profit from the Criminal Tyranny’s inefficiency. In comes the gestor, aka Enchufado – a character who knows his way around the registry and the ministry, who will get your papers done in no time, si te bajas de la mula, of course.”

    Fixed.

    This is what I mean when I say that Kleptozuela is made of thieves, leeches, enchufados, ‘gestores’, everywhere, at all levels of society, private and public companies, sector formal e informal, everywhere. Face it: Kleptozuelans are usually crooked. Not just the Chavistas in power. That’s what holds it all together, Guiso, Guiso y mas Guiso. Everywhere, yes, Millions and Millions of average pueblo-people are complicit, culpable, they participate as ‘gestores’, ‘bachaqueros’ or much worse.

    That, of course, most people hate to admit. Since it’s about our poor, beloved “bravo pueblo”.. Yeah, right…

  4. Such a shame.

    In Ecuador, the apostille process was fast and efficient. No appointment, 10 minute wait and $5 US per apostille. Courteous, friendly staff, too, at least at the office I was at.

    I also had to apply for a Colombian visa in Bogota at the Ministry of the Interior a few years ago. It was a large office with all the other foreigners getting visas. Again, no appointment. Take a number, wait 45 minutes for it to be called (they were very busy), then see the official to arrange my documents. It could have been any immigration office in the US if the gov’t staff spoke English.

    Both offices had respectful staff that were honestly trying to help you get your work done and on with your business. No mordida, no BS, and knowledgeable. I can only imagine the nightmare of dealing with Venezuelan officials…

      • Ha! Maybe, though the people on the coast tend to live life a little less seriously than los Serranos…

        Sometimes, I could tell that the extra service was to impress “El Gringo alto con ojos gatitos”, but most of the time I was treated well just because. My Ecuadorian wife and I would use my gringo-ness to our advantage from time to time in negotiating prices.

        To return somewhat to topic: My wife has been getting more and more stories from family of destitute Venezuelans showing up at coastal cities. A few months ago, my mother in law came across a single mother that had recently arrived to Ecuador with only the clothes on their backs. After a bit, she invited her for a nice dinner at my in-law’s house and donated some clothes and food for her to take back to the shack they were staying in. Depressing to hear her tell the story. Also, local Ecuatorians are getting upset because all the lowest paid jobs are being taken by illegal Venezuelans. There is genuine pity for them, but I don’t know how long that will last if they keep undercutting local employment.

        Aside #2, In 2016, my family got a ride in a cab in Manta that had a Venezuelan driver. We started talking about how bad it was (back then) and I asked him if he was glad to be in Ecuador. He started laughing hysterically, which got me laughing, and mentioned all the things he could get that were unavailable back home and thanked god every night for the opportunity to leave. It was funny, too, because we had to give directions to our house as he was still learning the town.

        Fingers crossed that this Venezuelan nightmare ends soon!

        • “Also, local Ecuatorians are getting upset because all the lowest paid jobs are being taken by illegal Venezuelans. There is genuine pity for them, but I don’t know how long that will last if they keep undercutting local employment.”

          A familiar story ……

  5. Saw a public announcement from the foreign affairs ministry just a couple of days ago saying that the apostile system was being descentralized so that it could be done in some 8 different places ……, dont know how that works out now, anyone else seen the announcement ??

    • It’s already being done all over the country. Still, not enough appoinments, web crashes constantly, understaffed offices, rude uneducated personnel. Etc…

  6. Astrid, there is another glitch if you can call it with the Apostille system, it seems that the same registros that issue the Apostilles, have to connect through the SAME web page that you and everybody else applies for the “citas” (appointments) to process the Apostilles so they end up tying up the web page …. The solution ? Outsiders (all other users..) are restricted to access the webpage on office hours …

  7. I’m so first world that I read this entire article and still don’t understand any of it.

    Huh?

    I need MRubio to explain this phenomena to me in a way that people born and raised in real countries can understand.

    • Let’s say you have left or are leaving Venezuela, where you were a teacher, and want to try to teach in a new country (lets use USA, for example). So as a first step in that process (assuming you legal to work in the new country) you have to bring your degree/diploma to the teaching accreditation institution of the USA, so they can evaluate it and decide whether it’s equal to a degree in the USA or whether you need additional classes or whatever in order to be deemed as meeting the educational requirements to teach in the USA.

      In order for them to evaluate your degree/diploma, it needs to be documented as legit and valid by the country you are coming from (i.e., Venezuela). In many countries, that is fairly simple and easy process to get your degree/document validated as legit. However, in Venezuela to get it validated you have to get it stamped by 5 or 6 organizations or departments (Ministry of Education, Ministry of Popular Labor, University Registrar, etc).

      So for each of these stamps, you have to get an appointment date, and on that date get there way early and wait hours and hours for your turn with the clerk. In the best of circumstances, this takes lots of time and you deal with the occasional clerk who is looking for any reason to reject your request. In current circumstances, departments have no ink, no power, no internet, etc etc etc so appointment dates get canceled and you have to start all over. In the meantime, your new life is on hold. You can’t even begin to try to work in your career or do anything without your stamps.

      However, the problem is way worse when what you need is a passport or some other item that will allow you to leave the country. you are at the mercy of getting these stamps and documents, you are literally stuck in Venezuela.

  8. Thanks for explaining that an apostille make official documents issued in one country legally recognizable in another. My friend wants to go on a vacation with me to Europe, though neither of us was sure what an apostille was. This article will really help me out, so thank you for sharing this.

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