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.