After a one-year test run with dozens of customers, a
Massachusetts-based company officially launched a service to obtain
documents from the island.
Cubans living in the United States and Spain often need birth, marriage
or death certificates for immigration and citizenship purposes, or to
apply for a Cuban passport. Beyond mobilizing family and friends in
Cuba, formal options for document retrieval are limited.
Although the process of finding a document in a local civil registry and
getting it legalized by the Cuban foreign ministry can at times be work
intensive and time consuming, Havana Journal Inc. is offering its
service at a flat rate of $495 per Spanish-language legal document.
Customers can order a document via the Internet, but nearly everything
beyond that in the three- to eight week-long process is manual. Cuba has
not even begun to digitize its civil registries; clerks fill out most
forms by hand.
Rob Sequin, who owns the media company, says he works with a network of
associates in Cuba. Arguing his business model is proprietary, Sequin
declines to reveal information about how many people work for him in
Cuba, and how he pays them. He only said that it takes "a pretty
extensive network of associates in Cuba to physically visit the many
civil registries across" the island.
"Our associates are trained to understand the system and are very
efficient in their work, even if the Cuban government is slow or
uncooperative," Sequin said. "Our customers do not always know where
they were born, so sometimes we have to visit several civil registries
to find the records." It takes "a shorter time if we have good
information and records are in a city, longer if we have limited
information or records are out in a rural area," he added.
The setup complies with regulations of OFAC, the U.S. agency in charge
of enforcing sanctions against Cuba, he says, adding that an attorney at
Miami law firm Akerman Senterfitt has confirmed the legality of his setup.
"We did not ask, apply nor require any approval from OFAC," Sequin said,
asked if he received explicit OFAC approval. "Our attorney reviewed our
proprietary document retrieval process, and he deemed it to be compliant
with current regulations."
After fronting a $25 application fee, customers are not asked to pay in
full until they receive a scan of the requested document, as proof of
retrieval. Once fully paid, the legalization process for the document
begins at the foreign ministry. There is added cost for documents if
translation by the Cuban government or delivery to a foreign embassy in
Havana is required.
Sequin's company also operates three dozen Cuba-related Websites,
including news site Havana Journal, and owns the rights to 2,500
Cuba-related domain names.