14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 3 November 2022 — This Tuesday, Liliam and Jorge went for the third time to the office of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Aliens (DIIE) in Centro Habana, and their passport was not ready although they have tickets to travel to Nicaragua next Saturday. The mass exodus, together with the economic crisis, is delaying the delivery of travel documents.
“We managed to book the flights, paying more than a thousand dollars each, but if they don’t give us the passports in the next few days we can lose that money,” the mother of two children, who will also travel to Managua, explains to 14ymedio. “They were supposed to deliver everything on October 25, and nothing has arrived yet.”
The delay in deliveries is confirmed by an employee of the office located on Castillejo Street, on the corner of Jesús Peregrino. “We don’t make the passports here; we have to wait for Sepsa (Empresa de Servicios Especializados de Protección, S.A.) to bring them, but they don’t have fuel for their vehicles,” he tells this newspaper.
“They must travel in a safe vehicle because we’re talking about very sensitive documents, which must be guarded until they reach their destination,” he adds, like the cash from the banks or exchange offices.
“That has extended the period between requesting a passport or identity card and when it can be picked up,” the employee adds. “Now it’s taking about 30 working days, where before it was two weeks, but that may be more dependent on how the issue of transport is resolved and the number of requests for new documents.”
The place is full of people every day, and it’s difficult to find an empty space on its two floors to sit down, due to the avalanche of applicants. Most of those who go to the office do so to start the procedure for a new passport, although there are also those who want to request the mandatory extension of that document every two years, and others who need an identity card.
I have just retired and have stopped the whole pension process because I lost my identity card, and although four weeks ago I applied for a new one, I haven’t received it yet,” complained Rodolfo, a neighbor of nearby Salud Street, who is still waiting to start several official procedures. “They gave me a paper that supposedly replaces the card but in many places they don’t accept it.”
As soon as the doors are opened in the Castillejo office, a worker lets the first group in. Those who enter are placed in rows of seats until they are called, one by one, to go to a table where another employee in front of a computer enters the person’s data to call him later. On the upper floor are the areas for taking fingerprints and photos.
“They can have everything very well organized, but what’s the point if the delivery times are late?” complains Rodolfo. “Since I arrived today I have even seen people crying because they had everything ready to leave the country believing that they were going to get their passport on time and then found out that there are serious delays in delivery.”
In front of the premises, Idania looks through her window at those who begin to enter the second round of calls, after the obligatory break from 11 in the morning to 1:30 in the afternoon to save electricity in the state premises. “I’ve lived here since I was born and I’ve never seen such a long line. Whole families are coming to get their passports and emigrate,” she tells this newspaper.
“In these days there is so much delay in the preparation of the documents that I have seen people who have even tried to give money to expedite the procedure, but the employees can’t do anything,” she says. “This is not the place where they make them; they have to wait for them to be brought, and if there is no gasoline for the cars there is no way.”
“And it’s not only here. The 17th Street office in El Vedado is the same, with a permanent line and delivery dates of more than a month and counting,” she says. “There are people who come from other municipalities with the illusion that it will be faster here, but it’s a general problem, and no one escapes.”
Idania estimates that every morning, when the DIIE office begins to open, there are already “more than a hundred people outside waiting to enter.” Throughout the day that figure can continue to multiply several times. “In this place, quietly, they are serving more than five thousand people a week, and if only half come to ask for their new passport, then we are talking about many people.”
In silence, so as not to bother employees or get into problems that delay the process, fifty people wait on the ground floor, sitting and listening to the rules, read by a worker with a martial tone: “Here you cannot use your mobile phone; to call or receive calls you have to leave. You must be aware of the person in front of you so that you don’t miss your turn*, and you aren’t allowed to speak loudly either.”
After the indications, there are a few minutes of silence that break when a young man goes down the stairs and shouts with annoyance: “I’ve been doing this and nothing more for a month. Another day lost and no passport!” A murmur of indignation runs through the room, and several people go out on the sidewalk to use their cellphones. “We won’t be able to leave on Friday. They are still not delivering the passports that were supposed to be available in the second half of October,” one is heard saying.
*Translator’s note: In Cuba, people line up by asking “who’s last?” when they arrive, and then waiting until the next person to join the line behind them asks the same thing. Once the ’order’ of those waiting is established, people can then move around, a convenience particularly when lines can be hours long.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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