Small Cuban Businesses Will Try to Replace Western Union’s Services

Line this Monday in front of a Western Union office in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 October 2020 — The lines at several of the Western Union branches in Havana were longer than usual this Monday, three days after the US Government announced that it will prohibit the sending of remittances to Cuba through companies controlled by military. The conversations among those who waited ranged from uncertainty to optimism to resignation.

“I don’t think it affects us, this works from capitalism and it will continue to work now,” reflects a 78-year-old Cuban who waits patiently in one of the lines. “If the new measure affects our family members who send the remittances, they will still find a way to send the money.” And he says: “I have tremendous faith in this company. Since my brother left in 1980, he sends me money here. If this stops working, I don’t know how I could survive with the 400 pesos(~$16.60 US) I earn from my retirement.”

The island’s residents trust, for the most part, that relatives living in the United States will continue to support them: “Cubans are great inventors and in Miami there are many. They will find a way to continue sending remittances. What I do not believe is that Western Union will risk setting up another intermediary so that in the end they will put a sanction on it. If they have to stop, they will stop,” says another resident of the capital. “I have a friend who cannot leave the house because he is very old and his son sends him the money through a company that brings it to the door. It costs him 20 dollars more than Western Union, but it works for him. I suppose that is the route that many will begin to use.”

The new restrictions have given wings to the informal networks and the private agencies that send remittances to the Island. Shortly after the announcement, the classified ads to send money by other means multiplied on the on-line sites. “For every dollar sent from the United States we put 27 Cuban pesos in your hand,” says a merchant who also offers the ability to get remittances “through Zelle, CashApp or PayPal.”

“Now that Western Union is in trouble, we continue to provide simple, reliable and fast service. From the comfort and safety of your home. Immediate delivery,” read another classified ad, trying to fish in the troubled waters of the doubts that the new US regulations have generated. “We are continuing and we will continue,” the advertising promises.

“In my block I have one of those private merchants who delivers remittances in hand,” a retired resident of La Coronela tells 14ymedio. “They say that now they are not going to let the military companies benefit from sending money, but the one who does it privately in my neighborhood is the son of a military man. One way or another they will always benefit.”

“It doesn’t affect me, one way or another my son is not going to stop sending me money,” explains Rosendo, a 79-year-old retiree who was waiting in front of a Western Union store on Monday morning on Calzada del Cerro, in Havana. “What interests me the most is if they could give me the money in dollars to buy in the new stores. That other thing, if it comes through Western Union or if a private person brings it to my house, I don’t care.”

“You don’t have to give it to me in cash, Western Union should think about enabling magnetic cards and if the Cuban government allows that with those cards I can buy in foreign currency stores, the problem is solved,” says Rosendo. “It is a question of the will of both parties but we already know that here many times the interest is exceeded and the will is lacking.”

Western Union offers in other countries a prepaid Mastercard for the collection of remittances, but for decades on the Island these cards have not been used due to restrictions linked to the US embargo. Only in 2016, Stonegate bank was the first North American financial institution to allow its use in the country, but with the end of the diplomatic thaw, the possibility was only in the headlines.

“Trump implements the measures to harm the Government, but it really affects Cuban families,” complains another Cuban, who complains that it is the second time he has lined up to get his money. “I came on Saturday but I had to leave because the clerk closed down the service at noon. That money that my family sends me, it’s true that in the end it goes to the government coffers, but that does not matter to me. At the end of the day, it solves the problem for me. It is a fight from government to government but those one who get hurt the most are us and not the regime, which in one way or another will look for money elsewhere.”


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