HAVANA TIMES – I have had a temporary visa to stay in Venezuela for some years now. I could have got a Resident visa three years ago at least. With my temporary visa, I have to go every year to renew it and, as a result, get a new card made. If I already had my Permanent Residency, I would be able to put this pesky piece of bureaucratic redtape off for five years. But, things aren’t always what you want them to be when it comes to redtape.
This month, after not leaving the country for two years (which is a requirement if you want to change your status), I went with all of my documents in order (yep, I had all of them amazingly enough) to the SAIME where I live. For those of you who don’t know what “SAIME” means: it’s the office where anything to do with ID cards, immigration and foreign affairs is sorted out. Everything was going well, as there were just three people waiting to be seen when I arrived incredibly enough; but when my details were typed into the computer, the “system” didn’t let my information come up. Why? When I went to get my visa last year for this year, they left the “process open”.
“Open process” is the phrase that people who find themselves forced to get a new card, passport or any other service that this office provide, fear the most.
“What can I do?” I asked the public servant. “You have to go to the main office in Caracas so that they can close the process.”
As I think I’ve already told you, traveling within Venezuela is a very dangerous, painful and expensive process, extremely expensive. Just leaving my home to get to the center of the city isn’t very easy. So even though I wasn’t surprised because it was the third time this “open process” business had happened to me, the news did make me anxious.
I was in Caracas the next day, after having changed buses in different states so that the trip wasn’t so expensive. It was raining when I approached the huge building that takes up a couple of blocks in the center. I got goosebumps when I saw the many lines going around not just the building, but the surrounding areas too. I immediately realized that these were Venezuelans trying to get their passports processed. I had never seen anything like it in nearly 10 years of being in this country.
After the well-known “to and fro” from office to office, I only got one result: report my situation again. I had done that at the beginning of the year when I tried to renew my card and I discovered that it was an “open process”. The public servant told me: “there are many cases in this situation, don’t worry, why do you want to renew the card anyway, you can apply for residency this year and get a new card.” I didn’t want to stress myself out right there and shout at him, telling him that that was why my card had been expired for two years and that for that same reason, traveling between states, the National Guard could hold me and try to “rattle me”.
Rattling is a common term for blackmail or invitation for to make a bribe; that is to say, so that we give them money in exchange for them leaving us alone. But I don’t want to get off track. I am still at the SAIME office, reporting my “case”.
“You need to come back in 15 days to see if it’s been resolved,” the pleasant young woman behind another computer tells me. “To see”. I love this short phrase which in Cuba we answer with: “the blind man said to see and never saw.” “My dear,” I said with all of the sweetness of my damp morning and barely having breakfast, “do you know how much it costs right now to travel to Caracas? just to “see”? Have you got a phone number that I can call to find out?” She handed me a phone number very attentively. “Wait, and if the process hasn’t been closed, what should I do?”
“Report it again, of course.”
“And what happens if my visa expires while playing this game of reporting without getting any results?”
“Then, you have to pay a fine and you lose your right to apply for permanent residency this year.”
“But, it’s not my fault, how can I be fined?”
“It’s not ours either, it’s the system’s.”
This is definitely an epic phrase: it’s the system’s fault.
And what’s even more epic is that if I call the “right” person and make the “right” payment, I can close my process immediately and even have my permanent residency before the year is up.
While people are lining up in front of SAIME to get their passport and flee this country, others are at least trying to stay here legally, but the pack of hounds are closing in.