CARACAS – In this post-collapse socialist Venezuela, bureaucracy has become a monster worthy of a mythological tale and, much like everything else that has systematically collapsed over the past years, it has become ripe for corruption and bribery.
Vital documents like passports and driver’s licenses, all available healthcare in the country, access to TV, internet, electricity, water – it all runs through the bureaucracy.
Buckle up, hold onto that sanity and patience, and get ready to share in my adventure navigating the living hell of a Venezuelan public office.
As we’ve recently become home to the largest migrant crisis in modern history, I find it apt to start with the experience of obtaining that which is most precious to a Venezuelan migrant: their passport. Like food and medicine, a shortage of passports has been something that has plagued us for years – unless you’re a random Hezbollah member who can’t pick out Venezuela on a map, then our socialist regime will gladly sell you a passport. I renewed mine in 2014 and it took months for me to get it.
In 2018, the minimum wage in Venezuela was 1,800 “sovereign” bolivars — which roughly translated to $30 at the official exchange rate. As of July of 2020, the minimum wage, which a large percentage of Venezuelans live on, is now 800,000 bolivars a month—which roughly to a meager $3.84 according to the Central Bank of Venezuela. A Venezuelan passport then would cost a little less than ten months of work at a minimum wage salary to pay, if those prices remained stable, but, of course, they didn’t.
The collapsed SAIME offices (Venezuela’s Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Foreigners) have paved the way for a most foul and corrupt system deeply rooted within the organization itself that peaked in 2018. At that time, It was not uncommon for gestors (managers) to charge citizens a bribe that ranged anywhere between $700 and $5,000 to expedite your passport (again, a monthly minimum wage is almost $4). Imagine having to sell all of your personal belongings and spend all of your life savings just to be able to afford the right to your identity.
Towards the end of 2018, I was offered to pay $700 for an extension or $1400 for a brand new passport. That certainly is way beyond what I can afford and, without a travel visa to my name, it was simply not worth it, so I opted to do things the right way. As a renewal was close to impossible, I opted to get an extension in 2019. Not only did I have to borrow someone’s corporate credit card to be able to pay it, I had to deal with a constantly crashing website. The whole website payment process took me a month. When it was my turn to pick it up, I faced a line longer than the one I went through back in 2014.
Nowadays, obtaining a passport is exponentially more expensive. As of the latter half of 2018, the cost of passports has been pegged to the Petro scam cryptocurrency, and their price has been dramatically increased to $200 if you choose the painful, non-bribe process.
#ATENCIÓN Informamos que los precios de nuestros trámites de pasaporte y prórroga están anclados al valor del petro, si desea conocer el costo de los mismos puede utilizar la calculadora de reconversión. El valor de la prórroga y el pasaporte en el exterior se mantiene igual. pic.twitter.com/cue6q2yzsw
— VenezuelaSaime (@VenezuelaSaime) June 2, 2020
In a country where the minimum wage is $3.84 per month, a $200 passport seems like an impossible dream with each passing day. If you earn a minimum wage here, it would take a little over four years to be able to save enough money for one — assuming you don’t spend a single cent on anything else. This dramatic price hike puts our passports among the most expensive passports in the world. Apostilles and all other travel-related documents are another uphill battle, just as corrupt as passports. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the US government sanctioned the head of SAIME for the glaring corruption and for the issuing of Venezuelan passports to members of Hezbollah.
Birth certificates are worth mentioning as well. I had to straight up pay a hefty bribe to get a new certified copy of mine last year out of Maracaibo, a city plagued with constant blackouts that can last up to 18 hours. It shames me to say that after my mother’s passing, I can’t seem to find an original copy of my brother’s birth certificate, so I asked the assistance of my father, who lives in Punto Fijo, the city my brother was born in. When he arrived at the office they informed him that they couldn’t print it because they had no paper, so he had to bring his own.
Either by luck or by the genuine empathy of the person that handled my mother’s death certificate, I was given three copies of it instead of one, which I keep in a very safe place because I do not want to go to the torture of getting new copies should ever need them.
As an added anecdote, I am still trying to get all legal affairs following my mother’s death in order, including the apartment that we live in. Long story short, it’s been a year and a half and I’m still not even halfway done, that’s how much of a bureaucratic labyrinth the whole process has been.
When it comes to Venezuela’s public healthcare, I think you can already picture the scenario. With the severe medicine shortages and fleeting staff, I think we actually make the British NHS look good. My mother, who in life ran the Pain and Palliative Care unit of the Miguel Perez Carreño Hospital in Caracas, was so severely understaffed and underequipped throughout the sixteen years that she helmed it, yet that didn’t stop her to carry out her duty and attend as many patients as humanly possible per day. It was not uncommon to have to wait for weeks or months for an appointment with her.
In this quasi-perpetual coronavirus lockdown reality that Venezuela has fallen under, not even the wonders of modern technology can palliate the bureaucratic beast. For the purposes of this article, I ran a little experiment that if successful, would give me a tiny quality of life change to my convoluted reality. At last, after seven long years, CANTV, the regime operated ISP, has begun to allow people to upgrade their internet plans. It’s worth mentioning that our internet connectivity is one of the world’s poorest and, while private alternatives exist in the country, CANTV is the only available option for the majority of the country, in spite of how deficient and poor their service is.
Lo and behold, customer service is only being provided through WhatsApp messaging due to the quarantine, for which they assigned a whopping two numbers to attend Caracas — a city with over two million inhabitants. With that in mind, I took two phones and messaged them, might as well increase my chances, right?
Out of the four attempts, I received a response in only one, and only after a few days. Their response time is so slow that I only received one response per day, taking an outstanding two weeks to go to the whole process — which is still not over, as the last message says that the request will be processed in one or two weeks.
Like passports, apostilles, and everything else in this country, I received a message from a someone telling me that they know a guy that can do this instantly for me for a price, so here I am, desensitized and tired of the Venezuelan bureaucracy, actually giving thought to that.
It doesn’t matter what you need or which public office you need to visit, the torture is all just the same. Shortages and bureaucracy go hand in hand with socialism, and when socialism has reached its inexorable collapse, things get bad, really bad, to the point that it’s infecting something as trivial as refueling a vehicle.