Is America really under attack to the point that the life of American citizens has to be so hard? This morning I had the horrible experience of taking my son Tom to renew his passport to the American Consulate in Madrid, and ordeal that took three hours and it´s not finished. My son is a US Citizen and his passport had just expired. My son is also a Spanish citizen, so I have recently been exposed to the process of renewing both his passports and I am sorry to say that the American system is both awful and humiliating.

First of all, the access to the American Consulate in Madrid is a mission impossible in itself. Forget about WiFi access at the consulate. Not only is there no WiFi there, but there´s no phone usage because the Americans are so terrified of terrorists that they don´t allow you to bring any electronic devices into the consulate, not even a Nokia phone. Moreover, once you come in, Americans and non Americans are thrown into one small room –that is probably unsafe in case of fire– in which consulate employees only appear as animals in the zoo out of glass cages. I wanted to photograph or film this crowded for my blog, but, of course, I couldn´t as that in itself would constitute a security threat so there´s no way the overcrowded conditions can be reported other than by my description.

And once in, what you have to do to renovate a simple expired passport is out of this world. In the case of my son we failed to get his passport renewed because my presence, his presence and his expired passport –which was of course all that was needed in Spain to renew his Spanish passport– was not enough. The American Consulate requires that his mother had to come as well, that we had the social security card and birth certificate and both his mother and I had to swear in front of a consul (who is behind the thickest bullet proof glass that I have seen in my life) that all we said was true. This American swearing thing just drives me nuts. Why is just signing not enough?

In the meantime, the application for the passport renewal is very confusing itself. Nobody helps you to fill it up. All embassy employees are in glass cages so they cannot see very well what you have if you show it to them and there are so many people waiting that the whole place feels like a crowded subway that is not moving.

Will America one day learn not to be terrorized anymore? Will America learn to stop seeing most people as potential enemies? I certainly hope that Barack Obama not only wins the election, but changes the rethoric of fear of George W Bush that has hurt USA so much.

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Antoin O Lachtnain on June 27, 2008  · 

We really notice this in Ireland too, where we have a tradition of having a lot of people coming and going from the US consulate. Somehow the whole thing is geared up to intimidate people. This was the case even pre 9/11.

The security down the road in the British Embassy in Dublin has always been much lighter, even at the height of the troubles. And remember, a British Embassy was once burned down in Dublin in the 1970’s, so they had a reason to be afraid. (

And surely it is possible to have extremely high security without having the whole thing appear so intimidating? If everybody is being searched on the way in, what’s the point of the bulletproof glass? Huddled masses, yearning to break free, indeed.

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jaime on June 28, 2008  · 

bueno realmente para compararlo habría que tratar de sacarse un pasoporte español, no sé, en bolivia, que sería como comparar EE.UU. y españa, pero es cierto, las embajadas gringas son auténticas fortalezas del terror

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Henrik Ahlen on June 29, 2008  · 

It is indeed tragic that the Americans have created these fortressess out of fear. In Stockholm the US Embassy is located in our most beautiful giant park area, and the last decade they have turned it into a battle-zone-like fortress with anti-tank road-blocks, fences, walls and the lot. It looks like a high-security prison.
I often jog past it and feel sorry for the guys that have to work inside.
I do think that the word would be a lot safer from both Americans and everyone else if they spent that money on improving conditions for people worldwide instead of fighting “wars” everywhere.

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Ricardo on June 30, 2008  · 

Come on Martin, you can’t see the difference between an American Embassy or Consulate and the country.
Our life isn’t so hard here but our Embassies and consulates are always a target for terrorists and political demonstrations.
You ask in your article: “Will America learn to stop seeing most people as potential enemies?”. How that can happen, when we read blogs like yours (the Spanish) full of hate and lies and exaggerations and ignorance about the United States. Sometimes, coming you or from the commentators. Why you didn’t wrote about Bush good policy in North Korea in your Spanish blog like you did in the English one. What’s is your agenda. Why is necessary for your son to keep an American passport? Isn’t the Spanish citizenship enough? Or if he becomes persecuted like you were in Argentina, then he can run a get protection from USA like you did.
They accepted, they protected and welcomed me when I needed the most. No, isn’t a perfect system, but is the best you can get in this planet. And the people here know that they aren’t perfect and that is why they are continuously improving. We aren’t whiners looking for an excuse for our failures. But we got to defense ourselve; sorry for the inconvenience in the consulate, sorry that we need to protect our people of the same people that wants you dead, the jihadists. (When Religions meets Politics, by M.V. Sept. 17, 2005)

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neoyorquina on July 1, 2008  · 

Well, as the Spanish saying goes, pagar justos por

I’m surprised that you’re surprised by the level of security at the U.S. embassy. Surely, as an extremely wealthy man, security is important to you. Would you leave your front door unlocked and then go away for the weekend?

With all the attacks on U.S. embassies and government buildings goin back more than a decade, (does nobody remember the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya in 1998?), it should come as no surprise that U.S. embassies are fortresses.

And until al Qaeda and all the radical muslims who have declared
jihad on the U.S. (and by extension Europe) start playing by the same “rules” as the West, (meaning tolerance, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, equality for women, etc.) I don’t see much hope that things are going to change under a new U.S. president.

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a. nonymous on July 2, 2008  · 

They must have read your post because they just launched an appointment service…

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Gabemac on July 2, 2008  · 

AMEN! I had a similar experience trying to renew my passport last month in Amsterdam. After going to the embassy 2 times to get an appointment (which could only be done on the internet), I finally was able to go through all the security checks like you described, (utterly humiliating taking the batteries out of my phone and PSP), only to find out that the form I had filled out was an old form (1 week old) and I had to submit a new form. It really made me feel like Asterix and Obelix in the 12 tasks. I think Obama could change things for the better seeing as how he actually used to live abroad as a child, compared to Bush who didn’t even have a passport until he was President.

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Martin Varsavsky on July 2, 2008  · 


I was a US citizen. Now I am a Spanish citizen. I am originally Argentine and love both, Europe and USA. But Ricardo, after careful consideration and after having lived around a third of my life in Argentina, a third in USA and a third in Spain, I chose Spain. I still have significant business, property and especially dear friends in USA and do not accept as true your opinion of my views of USA. With minor foreign policy, military, health, legal reforms USA could be better than Europe. But now it is not. And I say this with love in my heart for USA.

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Ricardo on July 3, 2008  · 

Thanks for your response to my comment. I believe you when you say that your criticism to USA is done with love in your heart. However, when I read your articles that love doesn’t come through. I will be interested in reading your reasoning of why do you think that Europe is better than USA. You don’t write about other European countries and you talk about America like if the whole nation thinks the same. In my opinion you generalize too much, for you there not gray areas, there’s only black and white.
I look forward reading your articles about your trip to my neighborhood, I live in Santa Cruz, CA close to Half Moon Bay where you’ll lecturing to the “digital pioneers”.
Thanks again for allow me to express my opinion.

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Henrik Ahlen on July 3, 2008  · 

To Ricardo: I suggest that you watch the latest video speech with Martin at where he explains his admiration for the American way and his concerns with the European regional cultures that are blocking global business potential.
I agree with Martin that this is a problem with many Europeans and that we should strive to educate more global citizens everywhere.

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Ricardo on July 5, 2008  · 

To Henrik:
Yes, I heard Martin’s speech about his admiration for American business. Was a business speech, that in my opinion didn’t answer the question asked: why the American companies can be so successful in the global market. He had an answer that I couldn’t understand if was serious or sarcastic. He said that the American companies know how to turn us into ignorants. And continue by putting down the hamburgers. But he admitted that to turn people into ignorants was a good thing for business.
Anyway, that is pretty much what I heard Henrik, plus that the Europeans are stuck in history and need to hire more foreigners if they want to have globally successful businesses. However, I must to admit the Martin is funny and has a good humor porteño.

Today July 4th., will be a good day to review the Declaration of Independence of the United States and understand why America is what it is. We are also stuck in our history by continuing reaffirming and fighting to accomplish what the Founders envision: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” America is a young nation that accomplish so much in a short time, but we must not forget that it’s our responsibility to protect those accomplishments. “July 4th. 1776”.

I left my country of origin, Argentina, in my twenties searching for freedom. I have lived in Europe, India and USA and learned in Europe that their culture is decadent, I learned in India that freedom is within you and can be achieved by a not easy practice of detachment and self realization. And finally I chose USA to live, because is the best country in the planet to be whatever you want be, even if the predominant materialistic culture is decadent as it’s in Europe and is not my preference, here I truly have the Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. I do believe that to be the reason of why America is different and why American are so successful in the global. Everyone is searching for happiness.

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Guido on July 9, 2008  · 

I am used to be treated like that in American offices. I am astounded to learn that American citizens are treated that way too.

You need to be healthy in order to be happy.
If you are poor or you cannot get insurance because you have a pre-existing condition, and you get sick of something treatable, but you cannot pay for the treatment, and you have your life shattered and destroyed, it is very unlikely you will be able to pursuit any happiness.
Last time I checked, Death penalty was going on in America. So much for your right to life. You have lots of pro-life people who will cry about stem cells but will ask for death for criminals.
As freedom to be yourself, tell that to gay people who wants to get married. I would like to know exactly according to what objective criteria the US is “the best place in the world”.

Please, do not misunderstand me. I really like the US, its bright part. But it has very dark spots. And we have solutions that work, we know it, we just have to look at Gini coefficients and HDI values in other countries, also compare reading and mathematical abilities in other countries to those in the US. The US needs more critical voices among its citizens, people need to stand up and dissent, no matter how many times they have to hear how antiamerican and unpatriotic they are. That’s an awful feature of American politics.

America is not the freest country in the world, neither is the best, at least for John Doe, who is no entrepreneur, and never will be if he stays uneducated and ill. For billionaires, well, maybe it is the best country in the world, but maybe Cayman Islands or Monaco are better for them (taxes, you know).

Of course, the country where I was born and I still live, Venezuela, is not better in any indicator of health, education or crime. But I am an utopian and I like to think that yes, we have to acknowledge good things, but we also have to find and correct the failures, we cannot take as an example a society that fails in providing basic needs for its citizens despite being the most successful economy in the history of Mankind. Trickle down economy does not work.

To me, European societies do that much better.

Some of the best moments in my life have happened in the US, and I think the right thing to do is criticize what should be changed to make it again the land of the free, not of the paranoid and uninsuranced.

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Ricardo on July 10, 2008  · 

You asked: “according to what objective criteria the US is “the best place in the world”. Sorry, if I wasn’t clear, but is my choice to live here and believe that is the best place in the world. I’m not trying to convince anyone, as matter of fact I’ll encourage you to stay in Venezuela if are you’re happy there and encourage anyone that isn’t happy here to go wherever he or she thinks is the best place.
It’s true, death penalty is a punishment accepted by the legal system in USA. Gays are free to be gays, but, the law doesn’t permit same sex marriage. We do have here a Rule of Law system in which no one is above the law. However, the law changes and since a couple of weeks ago gays can legally marry in California.
If other countries have more or better reading or mathematical abilities, all I can say is good for them and I hope they put it in good use. About more critical voices within our citizens, Guido, believe me if I say that we do have critical voices and that is how laws change here in America, that is why gays can marry now in California. That’s make democracies different from other system of goverment. The government isn’t allow to take away the rights of the people because a power thirsty individual wants, like happens in your country. The whole world can criticize our president Bush, but he will leave next November. He didn’t change the rules so he can become the ruler for life. That happens in your country.

I respect your ideals, but not your accusation of being paranoid. Paranoid is your president Mr. Chavez that is constantly seeing American troops invading Venezuela.
Socialism and communism already failed, why try it again.

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Guido on July 11, 2008  · 

Good that you chose to live there. For you it is the best place in the world. Great. So sad it isn’t for uninsuranced people.

You commented here in a very aggressive way, accusing to other people of having an agenda just because they disagree with you, and spreading propaganda. I gave information, hhard facts here about why other countries are better than the US, yet all you offer is your opinion. I am sick of American propaganda everywhere. The US has a lot of excelent things, but there is no way it is an example for the rest of the world. I do not hate your country, I just wish it would be a lot more sensible about its own people.
There are a lot of countries where no one is above the law, not only the US.

I am not really happy here. I would love to live elsewhere, but what can be achieved here (or in other Latin American country or even in India) cannot be achieved in developed countries. And now we have a lot of global trouble, we need more people thinking in all those subjects, we need critical mass of sane people. Staying here and helping that to happen despite the awful politics we have here (or elsewhere) is the best that can be done, I think.

You have dissident voices, of course. Yet vitriol rains over them, people reacts and accuse them of lying and being unpatriotic and having hidden agendas, just like you did with the owner of the blog in your first comment here.

You claim your government isn’t allowed to take rights away of people, yet you congress and senate now ensures that you can be wiretaped with no judicial order. Your laptop can be taken at the border and seized, you won’t see it anymore. You can be in a list that does not allow you to fly on a plane, if you are unlucky enough to have a name similar to a supposed terrorist. You can be shot during a raid in the “war on drugs” by the police, yet I do not see the public outrage (and when I see it, often other claim those are “America hating commies”) that I would expect. And, oops, you just re-wrote laws so telecom companies cannot be sued by what they did when wiretaping was illegal.

And yes, all kind of awful, nasty, shocking, disturbing, unpleasant, disgusting and plain stupid things happen all the time in my country, I have a really big problem with that. But, that fact is irrelevant in this discussion, as I am not claiming Venezuela is the best place in the world, Ricardo. I never had and I never will, I have never been a patriot, not even when I was a kid. I am staying because I have ideals and I believe in changing things, we have tools that no one has had before and I intend to use them.

Maybe you took the accusation so far to be personal. But for government that is worried about its own citizens smuggling explosives in a baby’s bottle, that wants to wiretap everybody, that takes your laptop at the border and that jails people all over the world just because they ‘could’ be terrorists (and man, sometimes they AREN’T!), what noun other than paranoid should I use? This post is a sample of what I complain about. Why I complain so much about it? Because often Americans and its government are so loud about how good America is. And yes, America is good, but not the best.

And you are right, Chávez is a paranoid tyrant. But that does not change anything of what I said before.

Socialism and communism failed? Check you history, please. Do you know what a kibbutz is? If that is not socialism, well then I do not know what is that. The difference is that kibbutz were voluntary, with no pressure, unlike all the Red Monsters we had in the 20th century. Israel is based a lot on the efforts of kibbutzim. And modern social democracies of Scandinavia are the best countries in the world, measuring them by HDI and Gini coefficient. We know that some kinds of socialism work in some places, Ricardo, we need to find out what else can be done and if stuff like kibbutz are practical in this age. Of course that is NOT the kind of “socialism” proposed here in Venezuela, sadly.

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Ricardo on July 11, 2008  · 

You sound like I don’t like to advertize their website, but, all what you wrote in your last comment is what I keep hearing daily from them.
We just think different. And I want to remind you that my comment about the best place in the world, was responding to a comment from Martin, his choice was Spain, mine was America. Is not up for discussion and was not my intention to convert people.
Good luck with your fight.

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