“You have to wait,” said the lady at the Embassy.
“But I have been waiting, it’s been almost a month and my daughter’s passport expires in just a few weeks,” I protested.
The lady pursed her lips. She was getting tired of me. There was a modest line of people outside the embassy door. They all clutched their manila envelopes, waiting for their turn. Some glanced my way, sympathizing with my pleas.
“What about a passport renewal instead of a new passport?” I asked.
“No, we don’t do that. You have to wait until the SAIME system gives you an appointment and then follow the procedure for a new passport.”
“What about a passport emergency extension, for one year? Then I can process our resident visa before my tourist visa runs out.” I asked again.
“We used to do that, but we don’t do that anymore. You have to wait,” she replied, annoyed.
“So, are you saying that my child will have to stay with her expired passport and tourist visa?” I spat out.
“You just have to wait,” she said mechanically, before turning around and taking some papers from another Venezuelan who looked at me with pity.
This happened two months ago. I was left with no choice but to scramble a last minute trip before my tourist visa period expired, and then had to re-enter the country once more.
If there is something more valuable to Venezuelans than dollars, it’s a valid passport. It becomes gold when you are living outside the country. My departure from Venezuela was a bit precipitated, I admit it. I didn’t plan it all that well, but I never thought I would have to return to Venezuela to get a new passport because it would be IMPOSSIBLE to get it from my consulate. It’s not like I’m in Vanuatu or something.
The passport process was appointed to one of the nine circles of hell in 2005, when it was suddenly a requirement to apply for your passport online via the ONIDEX webpage. My generation has the fondest of memories, of sleeping on sidewalks waiting for the office to open, or rushing from the offices to the airport so you could make it to your graduation photo on time since your passport appointment was right smack on the same day and cancelling the date meant not knowing when you would get a new one. (spoiler alert: I made it on time).
In 2008 came the programmed appointments, where you had to wait (sometimes for months on end) just to get an appointment to go to the ONIDEX and hand in your paperwork, then you had to wait a whole lot more for it to come out. The whole process was (and is) plagued by inefficiencies. Parents were terrified because infant and minor passports were just not coming out, and the lines were still heaps long.
In 2009, I had to wait for almost a full year for my little girl’s passport to come out, and if you check the SAIME page, I apparently still haven’t gone to pick it up .
Even APORREA has been aporreando the ONIDEX/SAIME passport process. They have a been at it for about 5 years, denouncing corruption, passport delays, and just plain bureaucratic nonsense: 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013
In 2011, Dante Rivas, the SAIME Director promised that all was in place so another passport crisis wouldn’t happen. He said all was fine and dandy, except the Goverment had just spent the last years saying that there was no such crisis and that ANYONE could efficiently get their passport with absolutely no trouble or delay. But yeah, there wouldn’t be another inexistent hypothetical crisis.
Today, we are living an inexistent hypothetical crsis again. Getting a new passport could take between 4 and 8 months. And SAIME has been quick to pass the blame directly to the Casa de la Moneda, in charge of printing the passport.
Still, whosever fault it is, Venezuelans are still waiting in line for another scarce good.
To put my situation in context, after that day at the embassy I called a few times. When they finally answered the phone and I explained my situation again, this is what they answered:
“The passport process is paralyzed, and I really can’t tell you when it will begin again… Maybe you should process it somewhere else. Can you go to Venezuela?”