Photo: retrieved

I never imagined that the day I’d try to authenticate my visa with an apostille to pursue my dream of living abroad I’d end up subpoenaed by some prosecutor with a reporting regime to shut me off all airports. That’s how easily they clip your wings here.

The official who attended me took my documents and immediately shook his head.

Mr. Altuve, who did you legalize these documents with?” he asked, and I felt the room swell with a bad feeling.

I never imagined that the day I’d try to authenticate my visa with an apostille to pursue my dream of living abroad I’d end up subpoenaed.

My name is Andrés Altuve, I’m a professional photographer specialized in urban photojournalism. I could say I’ve developed an instinct to discover the precise moment I must press the button, just like on July 30, 2017. After the results for the National Constituent Assembly election were revealed, I knew that image meant I had leave Venezuela.

My younger brother, Alejandro, began repeating it like a mantra, “Dude, let’s go,clock’s ticking. Not even the gringos can solve this.”

The breaking point was May 20, 2018, when Nicolás Maduro was “re-elected”. I immediately called Alejandro: “Hey, pal, let’s do this. You told me you had a contact to legalize the documents, how long does he take to make the arrangements?”

A month. Meanwhile, I tried to get an apostille appointment, fighting against the dragon of Venezuelan online bureaucracy. Finally, I got it for a Tuesday. I arrived at the Public Registry at about 7:40 a.m. The process began at 8:00 a.m.

I got number 144 out of the 200 people they see every day, and it didn’t feel that long.

Photo: Andrés Altuve

That’s how I reached the official, his shaking head and the bad feeling in my gut.

“My brother legalized those documents,” I said, knowing that a fixer was the accomplice of my decision.

I got number 144 out of the 200 people they see every day, and it didn’t feel that long.

“What? Is your brother a lawyer? What’s his name?”

“No, no; my brother hired a lawyer in Caracas,” I blurted. “I don’t know the lawyer’s name.”

The official, a 22-year-old guy wearing a cap from another institution, squinted as he studied me, and told a coworker next to him that this was another case of forged documents.

Meaning, a crime: I was trying to authenticate fake documents.

“Come this way, please, Mr. Altuve.”

It was another official who told me to sit in a high-walled, windowless office with him lounging at the other side of the desk.

“Tell me,” he cleared his throat, “who legalized this document?”

I stuck to the version I knew. He took the document, told me it was forged and said: “Mr. Andrés, for the crime you’re committing I must open a file, submit it to a prosecutor, and depending on how serious the issue is, you could be put under reporting regime. You won’t be able to leave the country for a long while.”

My legs were shaking. I felt sincerely trapped. I had no arguments, and telling him that I was a journalist could result in more trouble.

He took the document, told me it was forged.

In view of my shock, the official spoke again. “Look, Altuve, I’ll make you a deal. I help you and you help us: if you donate a ream of paper for the institution, I’ll nullify the documents you wanted to authenticate today.”

I heard him loud and clear, but it took me a while to understand the words.

“You’re telling me that if I donate a ream of paper to the registry —I asked— you won’t open an investigation, nor call a prosecutor, there won’t be a reporting regime for allegedly forged documents?”

“That’s right. You must bring it today before noon.”

And as soon as he said “noon” I left to find the ream.

I returned before noon. A new ream of paper costs Bs. 35 million, and I don’t know if that’s expensive or cheap. All I knew then is that regardless of the price, this was an arbitrary penitence. Even if the documents were legitimate, their refusal meant I had to restart the process from scratch, with the potential stigma of facing this same situation in a different office —not to mention the criminal consequences.

The official took the ream (which I wrapped in the first bag I could find in the garbage), took my document from his desk and ripped the criminal papers right off.

“Now you know: think twice, because your life could be ruined with this decision.”

“You can go now,” he said, crossing them with a pen. “Now you know: think twice, because your life could be ruined with this decision.”

It’s been five days of that incident. If I count the times I’ve been involved in acts of corruption due to the State’s operation, the first time was when I paid to get my driver’s license, a normal procedure among Venezuelans when we reach legal age. Why? Even though we don’t admit it, our blood boils with desire to get things done swiftly, regardless of consequences.

In this case, I lived to tell the story; but what if I had refused or had been unable to comply? That was the picture tattooed in my mind when I left the Registry. My family supported me with an audible sigh, but my brother just laughed.

“Now you’ll have to do it again with me, dumbass,” he said.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Man, you were really very lucky…. 1 Ream = 500 sheets of paper, for those who may not know … Why do people pay for this process ? It requires a lot of patience (and luck) to get an appointment via Internet. Difficult, but not impossible. Andres, I would recommend you to look into different Forums, like Me Quiero ir.com and check the latest tips.

    • For all Ven. internal documentation, the process is corrupt Cubans (yes, Cubans) at the top, corrupt Venezuelans at the middle/bottom, facilitated by “gestores” contact (friends/relatives), all requiring their palms be greased (“verdes” preferrable), and all mixed with the usual level of Criollo incompetence/delay.

    • Think notary public, but international. Certifying documents to support passports, immigration, university degrees, etc.

    • The way I understand apostille is basically a certification that the notary that notarized the docs is actually a notary and that the docs submitted are the actual docs needed. Like a “double damn sure” thing.

      In the US, this generally is done by the Secretary of State of each state.

  2. Te lo diré sin amagues, viejo:

    Te jodieron.

    Y te robaron.

    Nada nuevo en la benecuba bananera.

    Debiste calarte tu año completo apostillando tus vainas.

  3. My sister wants to go aboard and study in order to advance in his career. It was explained here that he should be careful when having her documents legalized. Moreover, it’s recommended to hire an experienced lawyer when dealing with an apostille for the best outcome.

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