New website launched to find long-lost Cuban birth certificates

A new company is charging $495 to help people who are desperate to find long-long Cuban legal documents, Frances Robles of the Miami Herald reports.

Mario Alvarez spent several years and many dollars looking for yellowing documents in Cuban archives so he could write his family history.

Like other Cuban genealogy enthusiasts and people who need birth certificates or death records to marry, drive or apply for citizenship, he encountered a tangled maze of red tape. Experts say the setbacks start in Washington, at Cuba’s consulate.

“I know people who have gone that route and, a year later, they’re still looking for that document,” said Alvarez, who lives in Miami Beach and was born in Camaguey. “Paying more works.”

Alvarez discovered a new service called Cuba City Hall, a Massachusetts-based website hoping to tap into the growing market of Cubans desperate for official records. Owner Rob Sequin figures some people are so anxious to get birth certificates and other legal documents that they will fork over $495 for certified copies.

His hefty price tag demonstrates the difficulties many Cubans have getting official documents out of the island, and the lengths they’ll go to get them. As a multiple user who needs the papers for personal use — not a certified document for a driver’s license or citizenship application — Alvarez pays the discounted $250 rate.

“He finds things that would take me five years to find,” Alvarez said. “I’m doing it to have something to leave my kids. I don’t think they care now, but I’m hoping they’ll care some day.”

With more historical data available online spurring popular television shows such as NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? and PBS’ Faces of America, experts say researching family roots is a growing trend. But for Cubans, the fad turns time-consuming and costly, because of an inefficient system in a country that has historically been difficult to visit. Still more Cuban exiles need legal records to become citizens of Spain, which in recent years made its nationality available to the grandchildren of its exiles.

Sequin, the publisher of the Havana Journal news site, admits that there are cheaper ways to get the papers, including Cuba’s Washington, D.C. consulate known as the Cuban Interests Section.

“We know people are supposed to go to the Cuban Interests Section, but they never answer the phone or emails,” Sequin said. “The Cuban government is not always efficient. People can be waiting three to six months to get something from the Cuban Interests Section, and then they come back with a misspelling and have to do it all over.”

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations website says that Cubans just have to reach out to their local consulate and apply for official legal documents. The system was digitized in 2005 and is much faster, the site says.

The consulate could not be reached for comment: the telephone was either busy or no one picked up.

Alvarez said Sequin has found records dating back to the 1800s.

“It’s a very labor intensive process,” Sequin said. “A lot of times people don’t even know where they were born. They say , ‘Havana,’ which requires going to 15 different civil registries. Sometimes they really have to dig.”

The documents, he said, are certified in Havana at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations.

But experts say most people don’t need to pay such a hefty price, especially if it’s just for research purposes.

“Usually in Cuba what you need are church records, and in that case you just write to the parish and send money to the priest,” said Jorge Piñon, author of the Research Guide to Cuban Family History and Genealogy.

Cuba City Hall, he said, really only needs to pay a Cuban $10 to run the errand and slip another $5 to the clerk at the civil registry.

Sequin, Piñon said, is “making a bundle.”

Genealogy clubs have fixers in different cities to run the errands who charge up to $100, said Ed Elizondo, webmaster of cubagenweb.org. But they mostly handle the church documents, which are easier to acquire and do not have to be certified at the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

“Cuba City Hall is aiming its market at people who need the certified document for passports or driver’s licenses, because it’s a big problem to get those certificates in Cuba,” said Elizondo, a retired aerospace engineer in Lauderdale by the Sea. “If you are digging into something from the 1800s, you need someone who knows what they are doing, or they’ll say ‘I can’t find it.’ The facilities in Cuba are just not available, the records are kept poorly and often are deteriorating.

“It’s hard to get anything even if you are there.”

He once posted a question on his site asking if anyone had ever succeeded in getting a birth certificate through the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. No one answered.

“I know people who spent years and hundreds of dollars trying to get information,” Elizondo said.

Sequin stresses that he got a legal opinion from a South Florida lawyer expert in the Cuba trade embargo, who advised him that his business did not run afoul of the law. The trade embargo, which prohibits doing business in Cuba, has an exemption for “informational materials.”

Office of Foreign Assets Control spokeswoman Marti Adams declined to comment.

Sequin is confident this service is both legal and in demand.

“For years, people would call us asking us how to get Cuban birth certificates, and we did not have any way to help people,” Sequin said. “A lot of people absolutely need it and have nowhere to turn.”

For the original report go to http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/06/03/2250158_p2/new-website-launched-to-find-long.html#ixzz1OHNx3gjn

6 thoughts on “New website launched to find long-lost Cuban birth certificates

  1. So if you’re a Cuban and can’t afford the money to acquired a real birth record for a green card to claim social security and the Cuban Interest Section is useless the what?

  2. I will like to know how much will it cost my father to get his birth certificate that he lost he is from Cuba he was born in 1951.can you plz tell me if you do this are Know someone plz.
    Thanks you
    Jackie

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