Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Cubans receive last of remittances via Western Union

Published:Tuesday | November 24, 2020 | 11:16 AM
A woman waits to be attended at a Western Union office on its last day of business in Havana, Cuba, Monday, November 3, 2020. Restrictions from the Trump administration on the military-controlled operator that handles cash deposits will go into effect Monday at 6:00 p.m. local time, keeping Cubans from being able to retrieve money sent from abroad through Western Union – the main source of cash remittances for many families. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)

HAVANA (AP) — Western Union closed its 407 locations across Cuba on Monday, a sanctions-driven move that will leave thousands bereft of remittances on an island that depends heavily on them — or force them to use less reliable ways to bring in money.

The closure of offices that have operated for more than 20 years in Cuba resulted from a barrage of sanctions that the administration of US President Donald Trump imposed while courting conservative Cuban-American voters in Florida ahead of the November 3 election.

“The problem is not the closure of Western Union, but that Western Union is practically the only US-to-Cuba provider of remittance payments,” said Manuel Orozco, director of the Center for Migration and Economic Stabilisation at Creative Associates International, a development-oriented advisory firm in Washington, DC.

“The impact will be felt.”

While Cuba doesn’t publish figures on remittances, economists estimate it receives billions of dollars a year and Orozco said that roughly half comes from the United States and 20 percent of the overall total through Western Union.

Some Cubans said they were taken aback by the imminent closures despite the sanctions being announced in late October.

Eighty-two-year-old retiree Luis Nuñes said he found out when his son called him on Sunday night and deposited $200 for him.

Many lamented the closures and the need to find less convenient or more costly alternatives.

Family and friends abroad can still use other banks, agencies and small informal businesses to send money to people Cuba, or relay it through visitors travelling to the island through Havana’s airport, which reopened this month.

They’ve even used cryptocurrency, noted Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez.

Granma, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, said Monday that the closures hit the safest way to send money to Cuba for those who cannot travel frequently to the island or don’t want to rely on third parties.

Trump’s administration has taken more than 200 measures against Cuba in recent years, including limiting trips, barring cruise ship visits, and limiting remittances to $1,000 per person per quarter.

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