Stuck in a Bureaucratic Hellhole

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Dateline: Somewhere between incompetence and laziness

While human sacrifice was officially ended with the Spanish Conquest and the destruction of the indigenous religions, I’m not so sure it has totally ended. It seems “alive” and well in the local bureaucracy. Take my situation trying to get a permission to buy property here.

On December 6th, having negotiated my real estate deal with the seller, I set out to obtain the permission I’d need from the Secretary of Foreign Relations. If you’re a foreigner buying property outside the exclusion zone, you need to get this permission before any legal contract can be completed. As I was told by a real estate agent in 2016, when I was considering the “Fantasy Penthouse,” it’s just a formality and shouldn’t take much time. Ha!

I had actually put this off by a bit, because I had heard the scary tales of Mexican bureaucracy. Among other things, I wanted to make sure that all my documents had the same date I showed up to the appointment.  After all, why give them a milligram of an excuse to reject me? So I’d have to get all the documents in order, in triplicate, and then print them at my local shop that does printing. Since I’m a bit of a slug-a-bed, it was hard to get going before noon, so I spent the prior week putting off my appointment. And the government office I was going to was only open from 10:00-2:00 PM, so the window was narrow.

But on Friday the third of December, I put my foot down and vowed to do it Monday. I had downloaded the necessary form from the Secretary’s website. I duly copied my passport and visa, and included a description of the property, which seemed unmistakably clear. Not only am I buying a house in the capital city with a known address, I used the City’s urban planning website to download a map of the property, showing the location within the block, side streets, etc. with the City’s urban planning URL on it. What could be more official, I thought? I even visited the properties with a tape measure to double-check the frontage myself before including it in the description.

Monday morning I schlepped over to the office of the Secretary of Foreign Relations. It’s located in the Centro Histórico, at Juarez 20, an imposing skyscraper surrounded by a large plaza and heavily armed guards. I figured it’d be best to get there early, but I only managed around 10:00. When I arrived I went to the indicated address. There I was told that I’d have to go to the back of the building. Which required schlepping around the block under the intense sun. Having wanted to appear as presentable as possible, I had put on some nice clothing, slacks and a button-down shirt, and abandoned my normal straw hat which keeps my vampiric complexion from burning to a crisp. Visions of standing in line under the nearly midday sun, slowly sunburning, filled my head.

When I got to the other side of the building, I was informed that I’d have to walk a half block farther east to where the metal gates were. Once I got there, I was informed that “due to the contingency”(pandemic) that it was all being handled by e-mail, and that I’d have to e-mail my request.

Jeeze, you think they could have put this on their website. Maybe? I’d have done this last week. Or maybe told someone out front so I didn’t have to schlep around the building?” I thought. And then snapped a photo of the instructions and stamped off in a huff. Later, at home, it took me another couple of hours to put everything into a digital format, but I couldn’t figure out how to create a single PDF of the application form and have my signature on it. So along with everything else, I attached a photo of the paper I had signed, and in my cover e-mail, asked them to accept this as a proper signature. Then I waited.

Surprisingly enough, by five PM, I had received an e-mail saying they had received my documents and would be working on them. Pleasantly shocked, my hopes were high for a speedy completion. I had tried to be as obsessively complete in my application as possible, and figured that I’d have a decent chance of smooth sailing.

Not so fast, Gringo!

Three days later, on the 9th of December, I received another e-mail from them. “Could this be it?” I thought as I anxiously opened it. Nope! It was basically the same e-mail as I had received 3 days earlier, written in such a bureaucratic form of Spanish that I decided to run it through Google translate just to be sure of what I had read. Mostly fluff about how slow they had planned to be due to the “contingencia”, (Can’t be speedy working from home in pajamas, now can we?) how to get an original copy of my “permiso,” should it ever be issued, etc.

By the way, it’s worth pointing out that they don’t appear to be doing much actual work at all. In fact, as far as I can tell, all they’re doing is entering my data into some database. The application literally asks nothing of me, besides my passport, and proof I’m in the country legally. There’s no apparent attempt to investigate me as someone worthy of owning property here. Not a single question about my (lack of) criminal record, etc. They don’t even seem to care about that unfortunate incident where I got a parking ticket in 2014 in Roma Norte.

Eight days after my original request, on Tuesday the 14th I got another e-mail. This one said that I had filled out an old version of application form. (This form I had downloaded from their website only a week before I sent it in.) So I’d need to send in the new form with the privacy notice attached. I’d also have to somehow figure out how to get my signature inside of a PDF file for it to be legal. This last requirement threw me for a loop for a couple of hours until I figured out that I could manipulate PDF documents in Adobe Photoshop. And it turns out they didn’t much like my property description either, but fortunately sent an example of what they wanted to see, and frankly, it was simpler and easier than what I had submitted in the first place. So I set to work, and got all the “new” documents out by that evening.

Then I began to wait again. My BF, who happens to be a lawyer, and who has been indispensable in this process, advised me that Friday would be the last day anything legal or official having to do with real estate would get done. My lawyer for the deal concurred. So I figured that nothing would happen over the holidays and I set off for Ajijic, hoping I wouldn’t need to suddenly return.

Thursday, the 6th of January, I got another e-mail. “Maybe this time,” I thought, channeling Liza Minnelli in my head. Nope. It was just another e-mail advising me that they had received the document I had sent more than 3 weeks prior.

Today? I got another e-mail. At this point, my reaction as I saw it was more like, “OK. Now what? They can’t possibly be just giving me permission, right?” And with that e-mail, it appeared that incompetence and bureaucratic torpor had finally come to full flower. Not only did they want something “new,” e.g., not requested on the 14th when they supposedly had reviewed the entire file, this time they wanted a copy of my visa. But only in connection with the purchase of the one house, which also seems ominous.

My friggin’ visa?!?! I sent that on the 6th. It was in the “zip” file with all the other documents. So I know you bastards have it!!!! I just checked my “sent” folder. Yup. It’s there.” That’s what I wanted to write back. But I didn’t.  I just sent them the requested document, along with a gentle plea that the Mexican sellers were very eager to complete the sale of their property. And that I hoped that my file would now be complete. And if not, would they be so kind as to please inform me as soon as possible so that I can get them what they need?

So that’s where I am. Bureaucratic Hell. At least I don’t have to keep schlepping into the Centro Histórico and waiting in line. And a good thing too, because I don’t want to lose it standing at a counter in a government office somewhere. Might make me an easy mark for a complete human sacrifice.