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A new coup against the elections and the rights of Venezuelans

Image of Venezuelan passports, available on the internet

On March 13, 2023, the Administrative Service for Identification, Migration and Immigration of Venezuela (SAIME, for its acronym in Spanish) launched a new system to obtain basic identity documents for Venezuelans and foreigners residing there, such as the Venezuelan identity card and passport. Although SAIME affirms that it is an “updating of the service”, the government entity incorporated new requirements and obligatory procedures that further aggravate the already precarious situation of both the population in the country and abroad who are trying to enjoy their rights to nationality, identification, mobility and residence, including the universe of rights that in most cases depend on the effective holding of updated documentation.

For the purposes of getting the identity card, whether for the first time or renewal, SAIME is requiring complete information on the birth certificate, the health center where the user was born, and a residence card issued by a communal council. If these precautions could make sense in an initial procedure, it is not justified why they are required in the case of a renewal. This situation triggers several problems, of which only a few are synthesized to provide an overview of the existing barriers that make people inside and outside the country live in legal limbo.

First, the issue of requesting and preserving sensitive data unnecessarily, in the context of a State without data protection laws, and that uses them for purposes of political and social discrimination, as demonstrated by the San Miguel Case and others case from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Second, the deepening of the digital divide between those who have access to a more or less stable Internet and have sufficient literacy skills and those who lack some of these conditions to process their documents, in a country that has one of the most connectivity critical given the intermittency and low speed of the service, especially outside the capital region. Third, the disproportionate impacts on specific groups such as populations in rural areas and indigenous groups, many of whom were not born in health centers, so they can even not complete their official registration. To this restrictive scenario should be added the economic, mobility and time difficulties that may arise in processing or updating birth certificates or residence cards in the midst of an institutionality submerging in a complex humanitarian emergency.

The reproduction of obstacles also increases the legal insecurity of Venezuelans outside the country, where a large group has already demonstrated problems derived from the lack of documentation and will now face new barriers to accessing their most basic rights. The most extreme situation is suffered by Venezuelans who need to obtain a passport and do not have an identity card or it is expired, as they must go to Venezuela, acquire their identity card and then process the passport, following separate procedures. The population of Venezuela flees as a consequence of the systematic violation of human rights, where economic and social rights such as health, food, work and social security have a strong weight. That is why for the vast majority is not even possible to visit the country. In addition, it will not be possible for a Venezuelan person who has established his/her residence in another country to prove residence in Venezuela to obtain the identity card.

These changes by the government of Nicolás Maduro are not fortuitous. They occur in the context of the upcoming 2024 presidential elections, within which the government continues to obstruct enrolling in the electoral registry through indirect means, depriving millions of Venezuelans of the right to vote. Considering the exclusion of voters abroad, who exceed 4 million Venezuelans, and the additional barriers to enrolling in the electoral registry in the country, not only are there no conditions to hold free and authentic elections but the enjoyment of rights by all Venezuelans everywhere is restricted to a greater extent.