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Sephardic Jews in Costa Rica – obtaining a Portuguese passport

Jordan Levy-Bograd
Jordan Levy-Bograd

Sophie Cooperman

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Thousands of Catholic Costa Ricans with Sephardic Jewish roots are eligible for a Portuguese passport. Obtaining the passport requires a professional genealogical report to officially prove that the applicant is a descendant of Sephardic Jews and thereby meets the criteria for Portuguese citizenship.

Our office specializes in obtaining foreign citizenships. Our attorneys offer comprehensive assistance in obtaining American, Canadian, Austrian, Romanian, Portuguese and other citizenships. In addition, we employ certified genealogists who specialize in finding the familial roots of Spanish expellees and their descendants. Sephardic Jews in Costa Rica

Sephardic Jews in Costa Rica – obtaining a Portuguese passport

In 1524, the first Spanish navy ships arrived on the eastern coast of Costa Rica. They came with the purpose of conquering the area, converting its residents to Christianity, and taking advantage of the region’s abundant natural resources.

After the Spanish infantry landed on the mainland and gained control over the natives, the Spanish king ordered additional soldiers to be brought to the area to man the fortifications and expand Spanish rule to South America.

Among the soldiers who came to the territory now called Costa Rica, there were Jews who were forced converts, as well as descendants of Jews who had converted to Christianity – hence the name conversos  in Spanish. The Jews who came to Costa Rica were fleeing the Inquisition, which had by then reached the Iberian Peninsula. They had converted to Catholicism out of fear for their lives and a wish to assimilate into the local society.

It has been claimed that when they disembarked on the mainland, they blended in naturally with the rest of the soldiers, and so they preferred to change their surnames to ones that sounded authentically Spanish.

However, these Jews had been brought up with deep animosity towards the Spanish Christians for what they had done to their forefathers. Therefore, they did not want to adopt specifically Christian names. Instead, they adopted surnames connected to the natural world, and especially animals such as Leon, De Leon, Falcao, Agilla, Chinchilla and others. Often they used the name Perez because it is similar to the known Jewish name Peretz.

Conversos’ assimilation into the local society

The Costa Rican territories are among the only ones in the Spanish empire in which, it appears, no Jews were ever executed or punished. This is evident from the lack of documentation of Inquisition of “heretics”, or physical punishments that took place. The social-cultural assimilation of the conversos was so “successful” that no evidence of their Jewish past remained.

As the generations passed, history passed over the conversos’ Jewish past and it was forgotten. The new Christians made an effort to hide their history from their children at all costs, fearing the Inquisition – which, shortly after the Spanish army’s arrival in Costa Rica, came to restore religious order to the imperial territories across the sea.

It is said that throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, thousands of forced converts came to Costa Rica from the Spanish colonies in Jamaica, Curacao, Aruba, Panama and the Caribbean islands at large. However, most of them made an effort to hide their Jewish past, even from their descendants.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Turkish Jews of Sephardic descent immigrated to Costa Rica. At the same time, a smaller number of Jews immigrated from Syria and other countries in the Middle East. Later, in the 90s, there was a wave of immigration of Israelis of Sephardic descent to Costa Rica.

Today the vast majority of the Jewish community lives in San Jose and its population is estimated at almost 3,000 people. Of these, some two thirds came originally from Eastern Europe, mostly Poland. However, as we will explain, the country’s Catholic community very likely harbors tens of thousands of descendants of Jewish forced converts, and so the number of people eligible for Portuguese passports is actually much higher among this population.

Sephardic Jews in Costa Rica

Conducting a genealogical investigation for Sephardic Jews in Costa Rica

The purpose of this article is to shed light on the history of Jews in Costa Rica. This history has never been told in detail, given the lack of documentation and local records. On the other hand, out of a Costa Rican population totalling some 5 million, a significant portion bear Jewish roots from the Iberian Peninsula, and are therefore entitled to a Portuguese passport. So, how can a Catholic Costa Rican citizen know whether he or she is eligible?

The Spanish authorities who ruled Costa Rica over the years took care to maintain detailed records on the local population. In most cases, it is possible to trace back generation after generation with the help of a genealogical researcher, and thus find out the source of the family and its ancient origin – all the way back to the family members in Spain/Portugal. When we reach the period before the Spanish expulsion, it is easy to check the religion of the last family members. In this way we can find out whether or not you are eligible for Portuguese citizenship.

A professional genealogical report can unequivocally prove that you are eligible for a Portuguese passport, assuming that one of your ancestors was Jewish of Spanish or Portuguese extraction. Our offices specialize in genealogical research and we have already found roots reaching back hundreds of years for many clients from South and Central America.

The process of writing a genealogical report

The process of writing a genealogical report takes between a few weeks and a few months and is done by genealogists employed in our office. Using basic information that we receive from you (such as date of birth, country of birth and parents’ names), we will be able to follow the history of your family back through the generations.

Once the genealogical report is completed, you will receive a booklet that officially describes your genealogy. This will be done through a professional chart chronologically detailing the generations starting with you and ending with your forefather or foremother from Spain or Portugal.

We are required to send the genealogical report to the Jewish community in Porto and to the Portuguese authorities for approval, together with additional general documents such as copies of passports, ID card, power of attorney, apostilles and more. After the report is approved, you are on your way to obtaining Portuguese citizenship, and you enter the waiting stage – around two and a half years. At the end of this period, you will receive Portuguese-European citizenship with all of its many benefits.

Law office immigration to Portugal

Sephardic Jews in Costa Rica can obtain Portuguese passports with the services of an expert and experienced attorney. Our offices in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem have helped many satisfied customers obtain the coveted Portuguese-European passport. Contact us today to determine your eligibility.

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