Photo: Diario Las Américas, retrieved.
“The security guard said that if I wanted my request to be taken seriously, I’d have to bring a medical file,” says Carlos (not his real name), showing the folder. “My colleagues helped me forge a document stating that I need to travel abroad for treatment.”
His friends in Mérida, Caracas, his family and even doctors in Miami were involved in an initiative that involved more than this one fiction. To get his passport nullified, Carlos had to (falsely) report his documents stolen. The picture of a smiling Chávez in the booth where he was expected to do so, exhibiting a joy that nobody in those offices has felt for years, filled Carlos with foreboding.
The officer received the file and told him of a mistake with his fingerprints. Carlos knew he had to nod and wait. When he nullified his passport in November, 2017, he was convinced that he’d made the right choice. He never imagined the path he’d be forced to take.
“I didn’t want the extension,” he says, with the emphasis of a person who knows how useless the government can be faced with such problems.
“My colleagues helped me forge a document stating that I need to travel abroad for treatment.”
The extension is a piece of paper tacked on to expired passports, to indicate that they’re valid beyond the stated expiration date. The paper’s small but the chavismo’s arrogance is huge, thinking its word carries weight abroad: the extension, for example, is not accepted for student visas in Europe, which was the goal of this young Venezuelan doctor.
That’s why Carlos had to nullify his passport and start from scratch. Back home, he went to the website of the National Immigration System (SAIME) and realized his user was a blank slate, remaining that way for the 43 dawns he tried to make his request (that’s the only time he has internet at home). Finally, the page showed data and he was able to request “the appointment.”
“You get no confirmation of appointment attendance, or even a date to retrieve the passport. Months went by and I still got no answer.”
Specifically, five months he waited, until yielding and paying quite some dough to someone who “could solve his problem.”
Once Carlos got his SAIME user data back, he found there was a problem with the dactyloscopic records, so he went to the headquarters in Caracas, to conclude his bumpy administrative ride.
“There were over 1,000 people waiting outside,” he says. “A lady told me her sister paid $2,500 for her passport, but I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have a single dollar to my name.”
“A lady told me her sister paid $2,500 for her passport, but I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have a single dollar to my name.”
With a black marker, he was assigned the number “1165,” his turn to ask for relevant information. A National Guard officer was posted in the offices, perusing people’s folders and requests with dry disinterest. He stonewalled questions and spouted affirmations.
It was during this process that he heard about the medical excuse, and it only took three days for him to make up his mind, during that back-and-forth between his home and the SAIME HQ. The dense dissatisfaction of both employees and users alike was an almost ever-present gloom in the experience.
He eventually got the good news: that “error” bottleneck was cleared. Now he had to pay for the express passport.
Hanging between anxiety and joy, he returned to SAIME, to stand in line for two days. He paid in bolivars and, 21 days later, he got his passport, valid for five years.
Back at home, his mother waited for him—and for water, to take a bath.
“See, these Rawayana guys say that going to SAIME is fast and easy,” she said.
Carlos gave her an exhausted smile, put his shoes and passport away, and just went to bed.