Venezuelans face a lifetime unraveling bureaucratic red tape
Special to The Herald
CARACAS -- Magalis Rivero just wanted to correct the spelling of her first
on her national identity card so she could graduate from high school. Armed with
her birth certificate, she thought it would be simple enough.
But after three trips to the National Identity Office and seven hours of
line, she was having doubts about whether she would ever receive her diploma.
``They just keep telling me to come back, and I keep coming back, and nothing,''
she said, a note of desperation in her voice. ``The school says they can't give me
my diploma because my name on the card is spelled with a `y' instead of an `i' and
I can't enroll in university until I get the diploma. Now I'm going to miss the
At 18, Rivero is just beginning to cope with the reams of red tape that
must unravel in their lifetimes.
Long lines, surly employees
From registering a car to obtaining a copy of a birth certificate to buying
the process usually entails missing days at work to pile up sheafs of documents,
standing in long lines and dealing with surly public employees.
Information desks are nowhere to be found. Signs identifying lines and
are often nonexistent or misleading -- making it common to stand in line for hours
before discovering it's the wrong one.
``With anything to do with public services, there's no organization, no
and the mentality of public employees is like they're doing you a favor,'' journalist
Anabelle Yanes said. ``The only way to get what you want is to yell at them.''
Procedures are bafflingly complicated.
To obtain a copy of the title to her car, Julia Torres took off work to
go to the
Ministry of Transport and Communications. After waiting for a couple of hours in
the 18th-floor office, she was informed that she had to fill out a form.
What form? Go to the mezzanine office. She went down to the mezzanine,
out the form and returned to the 18th floor, only to be told that she hadn't paid a
fee that must be deposited in a bank. She went to the bank, paid the fee and
returned to the ministry. She was finally able to turn in the form.
``Then they told me it'll be ready in a week. I came back, and they told
come back next week. I came back -- the same story. It took three weeks to print
out a paper from a computer,'' the 32-year-old graphics designer recalled. And
this, she pointed out, was only one step in obtaining a series of documents in order
to withdraw a complaint that her car had been stolen.
One of the worst offenders
Many Venezuelans point to the National Identity Office as one of the worst
offenders. The office often runs out of materials like paper and photographic film
for identity cards. Last year, it ran out of blank passports and resorted to issuing
stamped pieces of paper instead.
This year, the Finance Ministry has run out of timbres fiscales, which
postage stamps and must be bought and stuck on documents as evidence of having
paid the fee. No stamp, no document.
Planning Minister Teodoro Petkoff acknowledges that Venezuelan bureaucracy
``cumbersome,'' and has vowed to streamline procedures. Some progress has
been made. The Ministry of Transport and Communications periodically holds
special days for driver's license transactions, such as renewals and copies. At the
National Identity Office, the hours for receiving and issuing documents have been
extended, and the agency no longer closes for lunch.
But some say the bureaucracy will never really be untangled because government
employees would lose their lucrative sideline of ``commissions.''
``If they simplify the process, they'll kill the goose that lays the golden
Jose Manuel Gamez, a 33-year-old fast-food franchise owner who was on his
sixth attempt at buying fiscal stamps.
At the Foreigner Control Office, hand-scrawled signs are plastered on the
``All services rendered free of charge.''
But that doesn't stop Mario M., an employee currently on sick leave. He
the hallways looking for frustrated faces and offering his insider connections -- for
a fee, of course.
``It's a way of earning a little extra,'' he says.
The formidable red tape has also resulted in a legal business called gestorías,
charge fees to have fix-it people known as gestores carry out official transactions.
A gestor said part of the fee greases the bureaucratic wheels at the agency in
Charging directly to the head of the line, gestores inevitably incur the
wrath of the
weary document-seekers behind them.
``Just because some people have money to pay, they don't have to wait.
people who don't have money for payoffs, we have to wait,'' a woman said
indignantly as heads nodded.
That's the name of the game of getting things done in Venezuela, said journalist
``This is the country where you have to use connections or pay up,'' she