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.”