Many Cubans Fear Western Union is "On The Brink…"

At dawn on Friday, the lines in front of Western Union were longer than normal and marked by uncertainty. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 June 2020 — On Thursday afternoon, two of the Western Union offices in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución municipality had closed earlier than usual because they no longer had cash. At dawn on Friday, the lines in front of the premises were longer than normal and were marked by uncertainty.

After the new sanctions against the Island’s government announced this week by the United States, the level of concern among Cuban families has risen substantially due to the risk of cutting off the flow of remittances that allow them to eat or clothe themselves, among other expenses. Fincimex, the bank under the control of the Cuban military, has been blacklisted in Washington and this could affect money transfers through Western Union.

“My daughter, just in case, just sent me the remittance for this month and the one for July and August as well. If everything goes well for me, by September I might be traveling to Guyana to do the paperwork and be able to reunite with her, I am counting the days for that,” says a woman waiting in line at the Western Union office at Boyeros and Ayestarán.

There is no notice taped to the entrance but all customers ask the window clerk questions when it is their turn. With infinite patience and great kindness she invariably replies to them: “Don’t worry that until now we have not received any guidance to stop the service so we will continue to be open without problems.”

Caption: There is no notice taped to the entrance but all customers ask the window clerk questions when it is their turn.

“The Western Union has been here a lifetime, even in the middle of the Cold War there was the Eagle and Dragons office working, it was the only one, but hey, there it was. I don’t think they are going to close now, maybe there will be more limitations on the amounts that can be sent, but close, I doubt it,” says an older man in the middle of a small circle in the line.

If there aren’t, then it’s possible that the existing agreement between Western Union and Fincimex will be saved and everything will continue as before.

Most of the people in the line looked very pessimistic. “If they take this away from us, I don’t know what we are going to do. Thanks to my son’s help I can feed myself, if it weren’t for that I would be eating from the garbage, like many retirees nowadays,” laments a woman when she leaves the office with her money in hand. “The Western Union is on the brink,” she says.

“You see this money, now I will go and spend it on food, as that is what it’s for, not for anything else,” she said and and asked who was last in line at another line a few meters away at a small market.

The same scene was repeated in front of the Cuban Post Office on the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, where there is another Western Union branch. This Friday there were dozens of people there, afraid that the arrival of remittances by that route could be cut in a few days.

The Cuba Post Office at the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, where there is another Western Union branch. (14ymedio)

“This is the only thing that allows me to continue living in Cuba, because with my pension I could not even cover the expenses of one week,” explains Rebeca, a 75-year-old retiree who has considered “asking for family reunification” several times with her two children living in the United States.

“If this Trump measure is designed so that people are thrown into the streets, what I plan to do is launch myself into the reunification process with my children because without this assistance it doesn’t make any sense to stay here,” she says. In line, others reiterate the idea. “As soon as the airports open, I am leaving even if it is for Honduras,” a young man who has come to collect the money his sister sends to an aunt repeats several times.

There are also those who fish in the troubled river of sanctions. “Delievery of remittances in Cuba, the same day and with home delivery,” reads an announcement on a popular classifieds site for buying and selling. “We can deliver the money in convertible pesos or in American dollars,” adds the text which includes a Miami phone number to make the contact.

“It has been a long time since a large part of remittances arrive through routes other than the Western Union, so the only thing this new measure by the United States is going to do, if it is applied in its entirety, is to help those routes grow,” says a man who for more than a decade has dedicated himself to delivering dollars sent from the United States to families in Cuba.

“I have moved money that has ended up in medicines, house purchases, private businesses and even visas to leave the country,” says the commission agent. “There is no one who can stop it, neither Díaz-Canel nor Trump because here the people are used to these remittances and they are going to fight for them by any means possible.”


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