The Debate on the Temporary Cutting Off of Remittances to Cuba is Heated in Miami

Remittances are the second largest source of foreign exchange in Cuba, a phenomenon shared by several Central American and Caribbean countries. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 December 2019 — A campaign in favor of temporarily suspending the sending of remittances, packages, telephone recharges and trips to the Island is giving Cuban exiles a lot to talk about. The proposal has generated an intense controversy where each party expresses their opinions with passion.

Those who promote the initiative argue that if the Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel is deprived of vital resources for the economy, then a system change can be promoted. Its detractors say that it is a failed strategy used before and there are even those who have asked that Cubans in exile travel to the Island to protest in mass, according to the Nuevo Herald .

Alexander Otaola, a well-known ’influencer’ and presenter in Miami is using his program Hola Otaola to promote what he calls the “January Stop.” The initiative promotes the suspension during the month of January of trips, remittances, telephone recharges and shipments to Cuba, to evaluate and demonstrate the impact that the diaspora has on the Island.

“We want to tell the Cuban government that if we [the diaspora] are the second source of foreign currency in the country we have to be heard, taken into account,” Otaola said in a telephone conversation with the Nuevo Herald.

“Among those opinions that we want to be heard is the change in that archaic system. We want institutions to function transparently, without corruption, to lower the price of the passport [which costs more than $400 for those living in the US], that they open the country to the essential freedoms of the human being and that the repression ends,” he added.

For Otaola it is important to “raise awareness” of how powerful the Cuban exile is. “People inside and outside Cuba are used to being maintained. An entire people cannot be a begging nation that is waiting for what they are sent from outside. We cannot get used to our people being held hostage to a dictatorship and our families used as a currency of exchange,” said the presenter.

Remittances are the second source of foreign exchange in Cuba, a phenomenon shared by several Central American and Caribbean countries. According to The Havana Consulting Group, Cuba received in about 6.6 billion dollars in 2018 in the form of remittances in cash and merchandise. Of these remittances, 90% were sent from the United States.

In the battered Cuban economy, income from remittances is only exceeded by exports of services, which brings in about eight billion dollars a year. The Donald Trump Administration has limited remittances to $1,000 per quarter, and only to relatives, in an attempt to force the Government of Cuba to abandon its Venezuelan ally and benefactor.

The Havana Consulting Group reports that remittances constitute the main source of income for the Cuban population, and currently represent a little more than 50% of the population’s income. Criticisms of Otaola’s proposal have addressed the humanitarian nature of remittances, to which Otaola has responded that they are only a momentary relief for families.

“If you send your mother 200 dollars, she will continue to go hungry, she will continue to need. We are used to sending money to Cuba to help our families, but does it really help?” He asked. Otaola argued that remittances are “a palliative” but do not solve the problem of misery on the Island.

Otaola’s call has generated all kinds of reactions in the Cuban-American community. “It’s not that I don’t agree, but I’m not going to support that campaign. Nor will I do a counter-campaign,” said José Pérez Córdoba, better known as Carlucho, in a telephone conversation with the Nuevo Herald.

“I do not agree with joining something that does not make any sense or that will do anything against what we really should do: against the Cuban dictatorship. This is directed against the people, not against the Government. I do not think not traveling, not reloading phone cards and not sending things in January will be the solution for a prosperous February,” added the UniVista TV host.

“In my opinion, first you are a son or daughter, first you are a mother or father and then you can be a patriot. I have a hard time believing in people who love their country and put their family in the background,” he explained.

Among the opinions contrary to Otaola’s proposal is that of Andrés Rodríguez-Ojea, who published an opinion column in 14ymedio where he offers a proposal for “we sacrifice all together.”

“Wouldn’t it be more effective if all Cubans abroad traveled together to the Island and joined our countrymen inside, and together we all peacefully demand those changes we so long for?” Rodríguez-Ojea wondered, unleashing all kinds of comments on social networks.

“Surely that ’stop’ would be much more effective than trying to provoke a massive uprising by taking away from our families the basic livelihood that allows them to at least sleep with a full belly and continue dreaming of a free Cuba,” added the columnist. A few days earlier in the pages of this newspaper, an opinion against that thesis also caused an avalanche of comments.

Economist Jorge A. Sanguinetty, one of many giving his opinion on the proposed controversy, agreed with Otaola in categorizing relatives on the Island as “hostages of the Government.” However, he described as “analytical poverty and supreme ignorance” proposing that family members “do not pay the ransom and abandon their loved ones.”

“We must recognize the rules of the strategic board on which history forces us to play. Nothing prevents us from doing it intelligently, except ourselves,” said the well-known economist in a comment published in the 14ymedio.


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