It’s been almost two years since I obtained that Holy Grail of Argentine paperwork, possessing my very own bordeaux-coloured booklet with a criminal photo, inky fingerprints and my full name (hyphen omitted) handwritten with black biro which has already reached the illegible stage.
All the queuing and waiting to eventually submit my paperwork correctly must have taken up a good few days of my life. I’d had applications rejected and sent back to me after nine months thanks to the lack of knowledge by staff at the national persons’ directorate in Mar del Plata, and was even told outright in Pinamar that I didn’t qualify for DNI despite already having a visa denoting permanent residence in my passport which had been issued by the Argentine consul in London prior to permanently moving here.
Although I took the slow route, obtaining my DNI was also through the legal route which set me back a mere 15 pesos (others I know have forked out upwards of US$1,500 for the privilege) and I was completely unprepared for the day I could finally collect it from that freezing cold building downtown on 25 de Mayo street. Swine flu had closed down public offices that winter so my application took eight months to process instead of six months.
Allowed in by the burly security man, I then had to dash back out five minutes later to have some criminal-looking photos taken which I now have to show for the rest of my life, because I simply wasn’t expecting to collect it that day.
If only I’d had some piece of paper telling me, way back when in 2006, exactly what I needed to submit. My coveted DNI might not have taken three years to come through, and I might not have spent so much time hanging around drafty persons’ directorates dealing with the frustrations of being an immigrant with the wrong paperwork which had been legalized in the UK, translated into Spanish, then legalized again.
Through word of mouth, I’ve worked out what I can do with my DNI. Or rather what I can’t do. I can’t vote in the presidential election, for example. But I can vote in local elections, which in my case means the Buenos Aires City mayor elections, given that I reside in the capital.
Around 340,000 City inhabitants are foreign, according to the most recent annual residents survey conducted by Mayor Macri’s government. Yet only 11,000 of us are eligible to vote — a grossly small percentage. And I am not one of them, as I found out to my detriment yesterday morning when finding out where I should vote.
First, as a foreigner with DNI, I needed to have registered it and myself — before January 11, 2011. Second, I need to have been resident in this city for at least three years — which I have, but am unable to prove. Third, when I used the simple City government website to locate my voting station, the only response I got when entering my DNI number was “non existent.” How humiliating.
I then found out later yesterday that prisoners are allowed to vote in these elections, but me, the employee, taxpayer and freelance taxpayer with a DNI obtained legitimately is not, due to some rule I had no idea about.
If only I’d had some dummy’s guide to bordeaux-coloured DNI. Then I could have voted and perhaps made a tiny difference.
First published in the Buenos Aires Herald on July 11, 2011