There Are Not Enough Notaries to Serve the Thousands of Cubans Who Are Leaving the Country
It is half an hour before six in the morning and five people are already sitting on the stairs that give access to one of the most central notaries in Havana, a few meters from the Coppelia ice cream parlor. The massive exodus in recent months has increased the need for procedures in these places, all under the control of the Cuban State.
“This is the second time I’ve come in the same week because the previous time I was missing some documents,” explains Marianela, one of the clients who arrived at the place before dawn, speaking to 14ymedio. “What I want is get a power of attorney so that my son can sell my house when I am out of the country,” she details.
As the notary’s opening hours approach, dozens of people continue to arrive to join the line. Many of them will leave the place without even being able to enter, because the number of cases that are seen each day is very limited. “This is full from Monday to Friday and if it were to open on Sunday, it would also be full that day,” Marianela jokes.
The notary power that the woman seeks to make will give her son full power to sell or exchange his mother’s home when she has already emigrated. “I did everything to sell it before I left but I couldn’t because people are out of money so he’ll have to take care of it,” she explains.
In the line, most of the clients are for procedures related to housing: powers of attorney, transfer of rights over a property, donations or purchases. Many also have in mind to leave the country and “get their affairs in order” before getting on a plane. “This is like going to a better life but in a good way, that you have left everything arranged for those who stay.”
In the same municipality, on Calle 10 almost at the corner of 15th, another notary’s office shows the same panorama since dawn. On a wooden trunk resting on three stones, the clients have improvised a bench that is already full before the sun rises. With the first light of day people continue to arrive and when the place opens its doors they only let in five at a time.
But the long, slow line is not the only obstacle. “We lack the notary paper, we have to improvise,” admits an employee of the place. A few meters from there, a private business has the solution. “We have A3 format sheets on which we print the lateral stripes of the same color that the notary’s office requires,” promotes one of the employees.
“When people arrive and see that they need several copies of a document, they immediately shout to the sky because they say they don’t have paper for copies, that’s when we ’save the campaign’,” he explains. “They have had a paper problem for months because the demand for documents has grown a lot.”
“It is not only because of the issue of leaving the country, but because we were closed for a long time due to the pandemic,” adds Carmen, an employee of a notary’s office in the municipality of Cerro. “In mid-2021, all registry and notary services were suspended in Havana and that caused many cases to accumulate that we are now trying to process.”
The measures then included the suspension of the Property Registry services, foreign investment and commercial companies, as well as the Mercantile Registry. From the Civil Status Registry, only the registration of births and deaths remained operational.
“The cases postponed by the coronavirus have been added to the high demand for procedures from people who are leaving the country and want to sell their house, donate it or leave it in a power of attorney so that someone else can take care of it,” adds the worker. “To that is added that there are almost no resources coming to us for all this.”
Not only is the notary paper missing, but “the printer ribbons are very worn and there are times when we deliver a document that can hardly be read,” she admits. “People complain but notaries should be given a medal for continuing to work in these conditions.”
There is no shortage of those who make the high demand for notary processes a way of making a living. In the municipality of Diez de Octubre, Yaquelín and her brother dedicate themselves to the business of standing in the lines to enter the premises and selling their places to some desperate customer who arrives trying to get out as soon as possible.
“To be among the first five who enter when they open costs 500 pesos; places further back in the line can be about 300,” she explains to a troubled Havanan who has a flight date for next week and wants to “finish the paperwork as soon as possible,” for the sale of a house. The man doesn’t even try to haggle and they agree that this week Yaquelín will stand in line for him.
“Don’t waste time, I’ll do all the notary and certification paperwork for you, you only have to go to an office when you have to sign something,” a savvy merchant offers his services on various digital sites. His fees can exceed four figures but he says he has “a lot of clients.”
“People have to deal with everything at the end, they have the ticket to leave, they have to organize a lot of things and they don’t have time to stand in these lines since dawn. I make it easy for them not to spend their last days in Cuba standing outside a notary’s office,” he says. “I save them time and trouble.”