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Monday, November 25, 2013

Uruguayan Citizenship/ Ciudadanía

Dear D and S,
Since you are the first expat couple that I actually know of who got their Uruguayan citizenship, I do have a few questions.

I want to hear your story but these few questions (8) can help me get started.

#1 Did you use a facilitator, to help you navigate or go through the hoops, ropes and steps?
Absolutely. I think you'd be nuts (especially in Montevideo) to try to do on your own. It - as everything - is easier in Maldonado; we have friends who got theirs there (first I know). Using an attorney's office, we didn't have to worry about getting our own docs notarized, translated, etc. as they can do that in-house.

#2 Did it cost you the fabled 10's of thousands of dollars to achieve or were there just ordinary fees like filing, etc... involved?
Our cost for the citizenship assistance was (USD) $1,200 each plus vat (total $1,317.60, but it should have been $1,500: they honored the price Juan Fischer stated at the Phyle meeting where we learned of this), plus 90% of the $600 on deposit to cover notary and translation costs. I guess the cost to start now for a couple would run $3,600. Still a bargain.

#3 What sort of information and paperwork do you feel they needed from you, to help them say, "yes". 
All the usual suspects as the base requisites. The "feel" leads into the next question.

#4  Did you need to establish any paper trail, like gym memberships to prove you were really here and involved?
Absolutely. In our experience, proving here matters more than involved. This is the most crucial set of records to be building if citizenship is an eventual goal: regular dentist/doctor visits seem to satisfy them best (Uruguayos love going to the doctor, apparently). Passport, regular ATM withdrawals, Tienda Inglesa points, and your peaje records are all irrelevant. You also need two Uruguayan citizens over 26 as testigos (I think you know that word ;-) who have known you for three years.

#5 Where did you go to file your request. US Embassy and/ or immigrations, etc..???
Has nothing to do with either; all done through La Corte Electoral. They apparently look down their noses at Migración: 1) eligibility to apply starts 3/5 years from the date you arrived in UY with the intention of living here (not when Migración got around to issuing a cédula) and 2) they don't accept passport or Migración records as proof you've been here (which I find strange). The US Embassy would come into play only were you to choose to renounce US citizenship.

#6 Did you feel like your US citizenship was in jeopardy at anytime?
The USA does not have any restrictions on dual citizenships (if it did, half the "leadership" in DC would have to hop a plane to Tel Aviv tomorrow). However, were the US to decide to nullify my passport like they did with Edward Snowden (not that they have cause), I would just pull out my Uruguayan one and be on my way. Which begs the question "why?" but since you didn't ask that, I'll pass: it's a rabbit hole ;-)

#7 How long did it take before you knew that it was going to actually happen? In other words, was it just a simple matter of filing for it, then waiting several months to be served a notice to take the oath or was it touch and go with a lot of wondering if it would actually work out? 
We were finally sure two weeks before we actually got our Cartes de Ciudadanía, 14 months after starting the process. Many trips to the court, always with the friendly people at Fischer & Schickendanz. The court made "some" demands (Denise adds, "these no doubt would vary from case to case and person to person"). There is no oath, nor any meeting with a judge.

#8 When will you eventually get a Uruguayan Passport? 
I'm going tomorrow to apply. I imagine it takes a month or so after that.

To clarify, though we conflate a passport with citizenship, and may want citizenship for the passport, it has no connection with the process of becoming a citizen. I suspect many of your readers in the States don't even know why someone would want a second citizenship. "Our mutual Canadian friends", aren't interested (though I would recommend it, because it's so easy (for now) and why not?). Whether you want to get into the "why" discussion, as I said, is a whole other ball of wax.

Denise addsYour right, citizenships and passports are not synonymous. Most US citizens go through their whole life without applying for a USA one. Only those who travel outside of the US do so. Just as many Uruguayans might not have a Uruguayan one either, although I suspect many probably do have an Italian one. 

So without too much ado, I should and need to ask a 9th question for the blog, on why you applied for a second citizenship.       

     #9 How about giving our readers a brief reason "why" you or anyone else might want a second citizenship to go along with their native one.

One reason is to have a second passport, and the Uruguayan one is pretty good, with visa-free travel to about 60 countries, and no "reciprocity" fees to visit Argentina and Brazil.

Safety too: thirty years ago, living in Europe, I'd hear "we like you Americans but we don't like your government." I think it's mostly still the case that Americans as individuals are well received, but the US government has been working overtime to create a host of new enemies since, and I can foresee traveling with a US passport becoming more problematic. Even in 1979, living outside London and finishing my first teaching job, I loved the idea of going overland to India for $100 (using Lonely Planet's first book, the pink saddle-stitched "Across Asia on the Cheap" published a few years before), but blowback earlier that year, from the US meddling in Iran decades before, meant I couldn't travel there, an essential part of the route. (I did get as far as eastern Turkey.)

Again specific to Americans, opening a foreign financial account is increasingly difficult. It's easier for financial institutions to turn away American clients than comply with the onerous and expensive IRS reporting requirements. And it's a very good idea to have assets outside the US, especially if you live there.

Finally, most people consider it extreme, but a second citizenship and passport is essential for renouncing the first. As the US government agencies become increasingly draconian, it's not hard to imagine that having even a modest financial account outside the US would require a CLN (US Certificate of Loss of Nationality) to open or retain. In other words, you wouldn't have to prove you were Uruguayan, you'd have to prove you were NOT American. At that point, I expect new barriers to renunciation would arise. After all, it was only a little over a year ago that the State Dept. suddenly announced a new $450 renunciation fee for what had always been free. Who's to say they wouldn't make it $4,500, or...?

I expect Americans will always be able to open an account at the Banco República (BROU), but even that has gotten tremendously more complicated since we did it four and a half years ago.

A las órdenes, D and S

To D and your wife S; I want to say, Thanks and Congratulations on your new dual citizenship! I appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions. This will be a great blog post, a true, real life success story.

Thank you muchísimo
Denise Glass 

Monday, November 4, 2013

District Assemblies in Uruguay!

An Expat emailed me recently that a big storm was coming! It was due to start Friday, November 1st.

Rain combined with powerful wind gusts can easily wreck havoc down here. Power outages are also a possible threat. I appreciated the warning! However, rather than staying holed up in my house waiting for the icky weather to pass, I had other plans in place.

It's almost the end of the year and while places like the United States have already held their District Assemblies of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses months ago, ours was due to start, you guessed it, Friday, November 1st.

I had already paid for my bus ticket weeks in advance. The District Assembly I was to attend was being held near Pando, in a small town called Colon just outside of Montevideo. Our entire congregation usually rents a couple of buses and we ride together to the Assembly Hall. Which means that I had to be ready and waiting to board it at 7 o'clock AM; from a bus stop on the main Highway/interbalanearia.  Most people that know me, know that I am definitely NOT a morning person whereas, Wally is! I had to set my alarm clock for 5 AM in order to get up in time to get dressed, pack a lunch, gather my Bible, Song book and note pad and pens. etc... At least, I had just had a haircut so that I wouldn't have to do much more than pass a comb through my hair.  I had to make sure that I left the house with at least 15 mins. to spare for the short walk up to the bus stop. There are several Witnesses who live in my same neighborhood, so one of the stops along the way to the assembly hall is at our main Avenue in Marindía, Avenue del Mar. My neighborhood group boarded the bus together at this bus stop and then the bus went down the ruta to Salinas to pick up the next batch of us near the Salinas arch on the ruta. Then it made several more stops and picked up the other groups.

Of course, you don't have to take the group bus to get to the assembly. Some who would rather drive just take their car or motorcycle on down. However, at almost $6 a gallon for gasoline, I think the bus price of about $20, which covers the total 3 days (there and back) is a good deal. This being Uruguay my group rode the bus that morning happily sipping on their Mates, a hot herbal drink similar to tea. It's an acquired taste for those of us not born in Argentina or Uruguay.

There are over 11,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Uruguay. There will be several District Assemblies held this month to accommodate all of us. In Maldonado the congregations there (in the coming weeks) will hold their assembly in a rented stadium. Another group will hold their assembly in Paysandú and link up to Argentina via computer/phone links and watch the assembly program on giant screens/pantallas.

Our congregation's scheduled turn was as I mentioned, the storm weekend. The Assembly is a 3 day event, Friday thru Sunday. It starts at 9:30 with some music and goes till 5 o'clock with lectures, interviews and Bible discourses (all in Spanish) There is an hour and a half lunch break in between the sessions.  When I got to the Assembly hall, under cloudy skies, I saw that other congregations had also been assigned to the same time slot. I could tell, by the other buses already parked in the parking lot.

Our Assembly hall was built about 10 years ago. It's called an "Educational center" here in Uruguay. I've included some photos of what it looks like on the inside.

All our assemblies and meetings are open to the public. They are free and no donation plates are passed. Instead, there are a few discretely placed contribution boxes scattered around. This way if someone wanted to donate, to the worldwide work of Bible publication and lesson materials, they can do so without feeling pressured.

A highlight of the 3 day Assembly is the Baptism held on Saturday. This assembly saw a total of 13 new ones baptized. We had 1 new one from our congregation take the plunge (literally). We practice full water immersion which means, you have to go "completely" under the water. I took a picture of him and his wife Valeria after his dunk. His hair was still wet. His name is Danielo.

There is an Immersion pool built into the floor of the hall. When the Bible discourses are being held, the pool is covered up. I went down during the baptism to watch the brothers, as we call each other (Brothers and sisters/ hermanos y hermanas) uncover the pool.

To help everyone see the Baptism over the crowd of spectators, there are 2 large projection screens. I realized that I wanted a better look, so I ran around to the other side of the pool, a little too late to see Danielo baptized but I took a photo of someone else clearly being dunked fully under the water.

During the lunch break many run into old acquaintances they have known for years through such meetings. I took a photo of one brother from our congregation who posed with someone he has known for 45 years when they used to be in the same hall near San Jose. The couple in the end photo are from my congregation. He makes his living selling sunglasses at the ferias/farmer's market, where he has a table set up among the main venders. His wife's name is Esther which by coincidence was the main character's name (Queen Esther) in the Bible drama presented on Sunday.

My friend Carolina, along with several other members from our congregation had parts in the drama . The music and dialogue are prerecorded so that the actors have to lip synch the part and learn the proper gestures to help convey the meaning and emotion of the scene.

She let me know, that I could go backstage during the noon break and photograph some of the actors in costume before the drama started. Carolina is in the first photo. She said, that I could recognize her in the drama because she would be holding, "a baby" (a prop). She and her husband Hugo shown in the last photo, are still relatively newly married, so they don't have children yet. In the second photo, Katrina, who is a painter in real life, is seen standing before a woman dressed in Pajamas! That woman was to play a girl in modern times, who is at home with her family when they hear some news that they are about to be persecuted for their faith just like the Jews in Queen Esther's time, who were living in Babylon under Exile. The third photo is Darlene, a young woman who speaks a little English.

The backdrops were quite impressive. In the USA we didn't have such professionally painted backgrounds just props. Here in Uruguay there were several background changes to show different places of action during the drama.

The children in the audience were allowed to come up closer to the stage, in order to, see the action better. I am showing the size of the backdrop in the second photo.  The backdrops and costumes really were enjoyable to see. As the story progresses, you can really appreciate the importance of relying on God in times of trouble.

At the District assemblies, we usually get new releases of various Bible study aids and this assembly was no exception. We got 5 new little informational tracts on various subjects to share with people. A video on a modern adaptation of "the Prodigal Son", which is the story of a young man who leaves home and abandons his upbringing only to return years later a more appreciating person. Also, a new book about various Bible men and women who were outstanding examples of faith. There was also handed out at the end of the program a little brochure designed for children 3 years old and younger to help parents start to help their young ones build a strong relationship with God even at that early age.

I appreciated it because it had various simple lessons that were fun for me since my Spanish is still limited. For instance a little section on what sound/noise do various animals make and who created them. A rooster in Spanish says, "kikiriki" instead of "cock a doodle doo".

This Saying, is referring to John chapter 17 verse 17 ,"Your word is Truth"
All in all, I was glad that my stormy weekend was spent indoors listening to faith building experiences and Bible lessons.

 I was glad to be surrounded by like minded people and friends! As you exit now from our District Assembly feel free to visit again. I just thought I'd share where I was and allow you a tour.