HAVANA TIMES — As my tourism visa here in Venezuela expired a couple of weeks ago (it’s completely illegal to work with only a tourist visa), I needed to get a “Rif” at the National Integrated Customs and Tax Administration (SENIAT) office.
The “Rif” is the Fiscal Information Registry, which is needed for any work or serious business activity. That means I need to have one of those numbers to ensure that I contribute to the national treasury.
But like all modern processes, I needed a bunch of documents for my application. Among those were a residency verification issued by a municipal council and an electricity receipt.
If I had lived all this time here renting, it would have been extremely difficult to come up with those two little documents. However, before I moved, my in-laws took care of the residency letter, although at the bottom it said the document wasn’t valid for SENIAT-related transactions (among others).
At that time, I asked what community council I needed to go to get a letter that would be valid for SENIAT transactions, but since the provision was written in small print, I asked for God’s help in keeping the workers at the agency from noticing it.
I didn’t get to the SENIAT office as early as I should have. It must have been after 9:00 am when I walked in, where I was immediately shocked by one enormous line that went outside and around the building. The person at the door quickly indicated which line I needed to get in.
Even more quickly, with a simple glance the person in front of me noted my Havana accent and almost accused me of being to blame for the size of the line.
“The problem is that we’re being Cubanized here. This line is exactly like the ones in Cuba,” she complained.
I just smiled… yes, the line was huge, but I didn’t understand what that had to do with Cubans (though I know Venezuelans see us as being everywhere).
I looked away so I wouldn’t have to put on a fake a smile, but the woman wanted to look at my papers to see if they were in order. It was a kind gesture, I said to myself, and she immediately informed me that the copy of my passport needed to be on two sheets of paper – not just one, like it had.
I didn’t let that faze me though. At that point I didn’t intend to run off after another copy of my passport, which really only had one page that was worth copying. Nevertheless, I turned and smiled.
“The problem is that everything in this country is turning into crap. Yesterday they were celebrating the coup that took away our freedom, and now you can’t find anything you want to eat. Plus, no matter where you go you find Cubans and lines. You people have gotten used to all that, but we haven’t,” she continued.
She was one of those people who likes to be heard by everybody else around. I really didn’t know what to say, whether I should have continued trying to smile or snarl openly at her.
But I wasn’t an animal on my own turf… so I dismissed the idea of the snarl.
Unexpectedly the line began to move, and in a couple of seconds I found myself in front of a first table where they were checking the two or three photocopies that I had to turn in.
The staff person hardly looked at the form, so the fine print provision of the community council went unnoticed in this first review. They then collected all my documents and told what line I needed to get in next.
The woman continued protesting about Cubans, the food, lines and everything else.
I just thought about how I had eaten breakfast that morning, something that not everyone in Cuba can boast of doing.
The line, to my surprise — and perhaps to the irritation of the woman — began moving again, too quickly in fact, and in less than 20 minutes I had my Rif in hand.
Everything went so quickly that I barely had time to get nervous. I had imagined being posed a ton of questions by some official.
They just put my papers on a table, printed out a form I had previously filled out on the Internet (that blessed Internet that speeds up things), and I was only in front of the official for the time it took the printer to crank out the form.
I don’t know if that was an unusual day at that SENIAT office, but the truth is that I would love for Cubans to “suffer” this kind of fast line.