December 7, 2013

Yes we have no documents today

So many catalogs, so little time

Doing the right thing in Honduras is no easy task. You try, try, try to learn the ropes and jump through all the government hoops, but if the agency is not out of paper or ink, not on strike, or the system is not down, there will be something else to prevent you from getting those documents! Always has been, always will be. The most frequently spoken sentence of government employees seems to be: "Come back next month."

Most any government office anywhere...
on a good day
License plates

Shortly after President Lobo came into office (January 2010), La Prensa published an article saying that the government had run out of vehicle plates early in Zelaya's administration, none were purchased, and there was a huge backlog of people waiting for plates.

The new head of that department in DEI said that it would take at least a year to do the public bid process and receive the plates. He wanted to do an emergency purchase, which in Honduras means that somebody gets rich and favors to friends, family, and political benefactors are repaid. With my suspicious mind, I figured that it could only take that long because they had to ensure that the proper people got the proper cuts of the contract. Apparently that took a loooong time to work out.

Where is everyone?

In 2011-2012, the lack of vehicle plates came to light again due to the significant increase in violent crime. Tagless vehicles included motorcycles for which no plates had been issued in at least 5 years. Assassinations are frequently committed by two men on a motorcycle. With no plates and the riders heads covered with helmets, there is no way to identify them that will stand up in court. The majority of such assassinations are never solved, especially since they are usually paid-for-hire killers with no personal connection to the victim.

Two or more years into Lobo's administration, I read that they still hadn't issued a contract. I don't know if it was ultimately done on an "emergency" basis, but sometime in the past few months, DEI supposedly received 60,000 plates. They are now complaining that nobody is picking up their plates and they are going to start fining people. However, La Ceiba's DEI people don't seem to know anything about this and still say that they don't have any plates and that it will be at least a year.
Maybe it's like the security cameras in La Ceiba: Fake! Last year, La Ceiba paid L.10 million (approximately US $500,000) for 100 security cameras (obscenely expensive!) but it has just been denounced that at least half of the cameras are fake with nothing inside the shell except a battery operated light to make people think a camera is functioning. When the batteries quit working, there is no doubt that we'll hear that there is no money for batteries. Instead of being shamed by this ridiculously abusive, if not corrupt contract, the mayor accused the denunciante of helping the criminals by making this public. "Any incident that happens is on his shoulders" said the mayor.

To put this into perspective, a security company recently quoted us L.8,000 for a system of (I think it was) 4 cameras complete with a monitoring system which we could access at home or online from anywhere. Granted, a city-wide system is on a different scale than a home system, but still I see no way on earth to justify L.10,000 per camera, even if they were all real cameras, which they are not.
Waiting to serve you

My guess is that DEI didn't receive 60,000 license plates but that the ones they did receive went to San Pedro and Tegucigalpa, like everything else in this country. Those are the only cities that count with the politicians, especially during an election cycle. That is where the majority of voters are.

Instead of a plate for your vehicle, the government issues a piece of paper saying that you have applied. So what's the big deal if you can stay legal without the metal plate? Well, 90% of Honduras police 'work' is ineffective nonsense: setting up road blocks to harass drivers by checking for expired drivers' licenses and registrations (you know, going after the real bad guys - the paperwork criminals!). Vehicles without tags are probably pulled over and inconvenienced hundreds of times until and if they ever get their official plates. The temporary paper is only valid for 60 days, so it's entirely conceivable that a person could have had to return to the DEI and stand in line for renewal up to 50 times! It's also conceivable that person could buy a new car, keep it for several years, and sell it without ever having a plate for it. TIH! (This is Honduras!)

There really is no excuse because this is one thing in Honduras where the fees to the government far, far exceeds the cost of the "product" issued by the government – by many thousands. But greed and corruption keep the system from working. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

Hello? Hello? Anyone here?
Residency cards for foreigners

We foreign residents are required to renew our residency cards every year (with a few exceptions for certain types of residencies). This can be done only in three cities in Honduras, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro, and La Ceiba. This card is our official identification document and is required to be carried at all times. Failure to renew on time is subject to a hefty fine.

About mid-year this year when the government ran out of money (and mid-year most years if truth be told), nobody was able to issue cards. I've heard that recently San Pedro and Tegucigalpa immigration began issuing cards to some people or the promise of them anyway.

Information - Leave your guns here
Like with the car tags, applicants are issued a temporary permit, but only for 30 days in this case (60 days if the stars are in alignment with your astrological sign). So every month for about the last 6 months (and who knows how many months to come), foreign residents are expected to return to the immigration office only to hear that cards are still not available and to receive a new 30-day temporary permit. A pain for Ceibeños, or anyone who has to miss work or has a business to run, but also an expensive inconvenience for foreigners living on the islands or more remote parts of the country where they may have to drive for 5-6 hours or more each way or pay airfare and stay overnight at a hotel.

In a new procedural twist, legal foreign residents can now get driver's licenses only for the length of the validity of their residency card. If your license expires in November, but your residency card expires in December, you can only get a one-month driver's license. Then you have go back in December to get a new one! Just in case that wasn't annoyingly inefficient enough, if a foreign resident doesn't have the official plastic residency card, they can't get their driver's licence renewed at all! No valid driver's license? Go back to police road stops above. You are now officially a most-wanted criminal. It really is like Alice in Wonderland.

Oh, there you are! Break time.
Gun registrations

Woohoo! This one is really crazy considering that Honduras is widely proclaimed in the international media as the murder capital of the world.

Back during the Maduro administration (2002-2005), the police began officially registering guns. They had an amnesty period for a year or two but the police had a real system to record and register guns. You had to bring several bullets for ballistics testing. You, your fingerprints, your gun, and the ballistics testing were all recorded into a computer system for posterity and future police investigations. Shades of CSI-Miami! Honduras has come into the 20th century! Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?

Yeah, it was too good to be true. The Zelaya government quit paying the contractor so the company yanked the machines and, I think, the record data base, too. For several years, there was no gun registration. I don't remember exactly when, but at some point in the last couple of years, apparently registration was restored in San Pedro and Tegucigalpa. But police in the step-child of Honduras, La Ceiba, to this day still don't have the ability to register guns, even though it has had the highest murder rate in the country. Of course, it's debatable how much that matters anyway since only honest citizens would ever bother to register a gun.

"You could go to San Pedro, couldn't you?" I hear you saying. Well, let's go back to the road blocks mentioned above. Can you tell me how you could get past a police road block with an unregistered gun in your car without the police confiscating it and probably taking you to jail for at least a time until you got it sorted out? You can't register a gun that you don't have with you. Chances of ever getting your gun back are slim to none since the police regularly pawn evidence guns if not steal them for their own criminal activities. It's catch-22. It's a virtual impossibility to drive between those cities without passing police road blocks 2 to 5 times. If you don't have a licence plate, that increases your chances of being stopped by 100%. What if you don't have a license plate and don't have an official ID card? What are the chances of being stopped and convincing five different sets of police that you are really a law-abiding citizen trying to do the right thing? Hahaha!

Oh, and gun registration is not a one day process, at least it wasn't in La Ceiba, so you would be looking at a minimum of one night's hotel stay, not something that most Hondurans can afford.

Another example of efficiency: Stand in line so
you can look through 100s of cards to find yours.
What does the future hold?

Someday these problems will be resolved and will be replaced by new problems like no ID cards for Hondurans or no drivers licenses or inability to issue birth certificates, graduation certificates, deeds to properties or something. It's always something especially with a new government, new employees, and new procedures that we'll be facing in January.

Will any of this change with new President Juan Orlando Hernández? Maybe a little since security was his big campaign promise. But that is probably being overly optimistic based on this insightful (if I do say so myself) article, Vicious circle, that I wrote back in 2008. I firmly believe that nothing has changed since then, especially since JOH, who was president of the congress, began using government resources to campaign for president in January 2010!

The only advantage next year will be that we aren't changing political parties and maybe there won't be quite as much turnover or sabotaging. On the other hand, sometimes new administrations decide that they don't trust the old administration/system/employees and that everything needs to be done or at least approved in Tegucigalpa. No, I don't really believe Honduras will change significantly but you always have to have hope, right? Always the pollyanna, that's me!


PS: Dear Honduran friends, I do realize that your problems with government tramites are often much worse than foreign residents and can have an even more severe effect on your lives. I commiserate with you, I really do! It doesn't have to be this way.

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