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Cuban government announces closure of Western Union offices and suspension of remittances

Cubans and tourists queue outside a Western Union office to receive money orders in Havana, Cuba, on March 19, 2016. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

More than 400 Western Union offices in Cuba will close their doors due to new embargo regulations imposed by the Trump administration, Fincimex, the Cuban military company that controls remittances to Cuba, said Tuesday.

But Western Union, which handles the lion’s share of the money sent to the island from the United States, said it continues looking for alternatives to maintain the service.

The Trump administration published new embargo regulations Tuesday that prohibit the participation of companies controlled by the Cuban military in the processing of remittances. In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the measure seeks to cut the Cuban military out of the business and cut off funds that flow to Cuban security agencies accused of human rights violations in Cuba and Venezuela.

But in a statement posted on Facebook and republished in the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s website, Fincimex suggested that the Cuban government is unwilling to give in by transferring the remittance business to public, nonmilitary entities.

“Fincimex, as part of the Cuban financial system, is the entity that by sovereign decision of the Cuban government has been in charge of guaranteeing remittances to Cuba from the U.S., which will be totally interrupted” by the new measures, the statement said.

According to the company, the new regulations will affect Western Union services.

“Among our North American counterparts is Western Union, an entity whose 407 offices distributed throughout the country will close due to these brutal provisions,” the statement said.

A Western Union spokeswoman said the company is still working to find an alternative arrangement to maintain the service. For now, customers can continue to send money to Cuba because the Trump administration gave U.S. companies 30 days to negotiate a solution with the Cuban government.

“Our goal is to continue providing essential money transfer services to customers, many of whom are relying on remittances from loved ones to meet day-to-day needs,” spokeswoman Margaret Fogarty said in a statement.

“Western Union is committed to adhering to all government regulations, and we are currently working to comply with the new rules and regulations on Cuba. We will provide additional information as we formalize those plans,” Fogarty added.

Fincimex is part of GAESA, the conglomerate of military companies controlled by Raul Castro’s former son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja. The State Department recently included Fincimex and AIS, another military company involved in remittances of dollars to Cuba, on its list of restricted entities.

Following the inclusion of AIS on the list, Miami-based agencies that send dollar remittances to Cuba resumed the service through Cuban government banks Banco Metropolitano and Banco Popular de Ahorro.

But Fincimex’s statement holds the U.S. government responsible “for the interruption of the remittance service between the two countries.”

“The recent provisions directly attack family remittances even when Washington’s representatives lie and try to make it appear that the limitations are only for a specific entity,” says Fincimex.

The abrupt suspension of remittances would affect millions of families in Cuba who depend on that money to survive in a country plunged into a deep economic crisis and where the average monthly salary is $30.

Remittances are the Cuban government’s second-largest source of revenue, estimated at more than $3 billion yearly. The Trump administration previously restricted the amount of money that can be sent to the island to $ 1,000 per person per quarter.


(c) 2020 Miami Herald

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.