For example, pensioners have to report to a social security office every three months to prove to bureaucrats that they're still alive. Villagers may travel five or six hours by bus to sort out a land-ownership issue, only to be told to come back another day. Registering a car or getting a taxi license can take days. Part of the reason Mexico City's sidewalks are jammed with makeshift taco stands and card tables brimming with clothing, toys and hardware for sale is that many vendors want to skirt the headache of licensing a formal shop.
Mexican bureaucrats can be sticklers; scratching out a mistake on a form can send you back to the starting line.
"For me, it's a way to justify the taxes we pay, to justify all the hiring," Esteban Gasca, a 52-year-old economist, said as he left a federal passport office that is housed in the city government's complex. He carried a manila folder and, despite the happy din of an office workers' holiday party in the plaza outside, a less-than-festive expression. He was leaving empty-handed for the second day in a row.
The day before, Gasca had shown up at this branch, or delegacion, to get his passport renewed. But he was told his birth certificate had to be reissued on an updated form first. Another tramite, another line, another agency.
That done, he came back, only to learn that he'd been given the wrong hours for passport renewal. His plans to visit the United States this month were looking shaky. Gasca said he'd try to get the new passport at a different delegacion, or come back one more time.
"You have to resign yourself," he said.
Upstairs, in a bustling municipal office, a trio of colorful holiday-season pinatas offered scant cheer for two dozen residents waiting in a cramped corner for their chance to complete tramites at eight numbered desks. The whisper of shuffling papers was punctuated by the periodic shtunk shtunk of a clerk's stamp: confirmation of a tramite accomplished.
Outside, Arturo Sandria waited with his folder of house-painting documents, including letters of permission from a city planning office and a federal agency that oversees the historic district where his house sits. Other people leaned against the wall, cradling their bundles of paperwork in folders and plastic sleeves. A woman in her 20s balanced a stack of files; she was holding a spot for her boss.
After four more hours of waiting, Sandria would triumph at last. His permit was approved, his tramites ended. He plans to start painting the middle of this month.
He's settled on beige.