Cubans react to the closure of Western Union offices

Cubans react to the closure of Western Union offices
Cubans react to the closure of Western Union offices

“They are like that all day, waiting to see him fall off the truck. As there are no tourists, the jineteras, the tobacco sellers and the owners of rental houses, we are not making a single peso, ”says Estefany. If she could, she would wipe out the year 2020. “Oh, my little virgin, what damage we have done to you. cuban to the Lord who allows us to be punished so harshly ”, and kisses a miniature replica of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Patron Saint of Cuba.

According to Estefany, the main culprit of the adversities that Cubans experience today is the government. He always speaks of prosperity in the name of the people, but every day we go back like a crab. It is an odyssey to buy food, get medicine or a simple light bulb. “And she says that in 2016 she had all the rooms rented, she was able to buy an apartment for her daughter and a car that her husband drives.” Now, because of the virus that came from China , with squeezes that squeezes you and the insipid Diaz-Canel that does not put one, there is hardly any tourism and for nine months I have not rented a room. In order to survive, I have had to sell hard fries, puddings, and bread. And if the misfortunes weren’t enough, the Western Union offices are going to close.

Bankrupt city

When you walk along the Paseo del Prado, in the heart of Havana, you notice that the existing hotels in that area are empty or closed, such as the Saratoga, Parque Central or Manzana Kempinski. Agustín, a car parker, assures that “because of the pandemic there are no tourists. The parks are almost empty, you only see crowds in the few stores for convertible pesos that are left and that only sell chicken, sausages and detergent. Big stores like Ultra and La Época are either closed or selling for dollars. With the closure of Western Union a lot of families are going to see black. Although the Miami Cubans will already look for a way to get the dollars to their relatives ”.

The day before the announcement that Western Union branches were closing in Cuba, the queues were immense. In the branch located inside the Brimart store, in the municipality of Diez de Octubre, south of Havana, the money ran out in two hours. “Is incredible. If next month they take away the chavito (cuc) these people (the government) do not have enough liquidity to supply the Western Union branches ”, commented a disgusted lady.

There are 407 payment points in Cuba for Western Union, a US financial services company that began operating in Cuba in 1999. Olga Lidia, a housewife, remembers that when Fidel took the dollar out of circulation the problems began. “First they invented the famous 20 percent tax and with one stroke of the pen they stole twenty dollars out of every hundred your family sent you. Then it was reduced to ten percent. But the Western Union, perhaps due to the protests of many emigrants, assessed Convertible pesos at 0.97, while the bank paid it at 0.87. In Obama’s time you could charge any amount, but many times the offices were closed because they had no money or the computer system did not work. Now, despite the fact that relatives They give you dollars in the United States, it is charged in cuc, a currency that barely has the capacity to buy in Cuba ”.

The truth of closure

A Western Union official confirmed to DIARIO LAS AMÉRICAS that FINCIMEX is a firm that belongs to GAESA, a conglomerate of military companies that administers 90 percent of the foreign currency that enters the country. However, the official note published in the official media does not mention that FINCIMEX is a military entity or the reasons why Washington decided to close its operations.

“It was being negotiated with officials of the Western Union that the money that was sent would be transferred to MLC cards (freely convertible currency). Did not agree [el régimen]. Nor did it suit them to separate transactions directly in dollars, “explains the official.

From the point of view of Abel, a retired professor, Trump’s measures against the Government [cubano] are perfectly justified. “What happens is that in Cuba they don’t tell the complete story. All this began with the interference of the Cuban government in Venezuela. But in my opinion many of those measures are naive. What’s the use of making a list so that Americans don’t stay in hotels run by the military if the whole country is controlled by the military? It’s the same with remittances. The government can authorize Banco Metropolitano to do the transactions instead of Western Union. It doesn’t matter, everything belongs to the state.

The affected

What is true is that these measures affect the people and the self-employed. In this war between the government of the United States and that of Cuba, the people are collateral damage.

Most opponents, journalists and independent artists do not approve of the measure either. Luis Manuel Otero, the most rebellious activist, at the head of the San Isidro Movement, considers that “the issue of Western Union has several edges. The change is going to come from the people. When I tell you people, I’m talking about the Cuban from day to day, the one who eats rice with croquette and shoots very long lines to buy chicken. A part of these people, a kind of lower middle class, a certain celebrity or those who have private businesses – and they are not exactly those who eat rice with croquette – receive remittances from the United States. If those people who receive dollars, and the government of the United States takes away the Western Union, it gives the regime all the moral position to disconnect us from certain characters ”, who have invented positions of opponents.

“I have heard several versions, that if Trump does well, that now he is, that they have the government against the wall. But I am very skeptical, as there have already been a few US administrations pressuring the regime and it is getting worse and worse. We are in an interesting moment, I don’t doubt it, but I think that 60 percent of the changes in Cuba will come from the connection that is generated between the opposition and the people. And the other 40 percent is with the connection to exile. For me, what that measure does is divide ”.

“The regime is going to design its narrative. Increase the propaganda with speeches like ‘I’m not the one who takes your dollars, it’s Trump’. They have enough tools to sustain their barracks economy. Distribute rice, beans and a piece of chicken. It is the people who are going to be affected. When the special period, in the 90s, showed that the regime is better managed in those contexts. Now there are many more escape routes, people go to Guyana or any other country and bring four shampoos and start fighting in Cuba. The Cuban has an eternal conditioning to misery ”.

“Activists and opponents are also going to be affected. We buy the same chicken that everyone eats, we receive the money through Western Union like everyone else. And on the contrary, you are harassed by a whole experienced psychological and repressive apparatus. I am optimistic, sooner rather than later, changes will happen in Cuba. But I am skeptical with this measure on remittances and the closure of Western Union ”, concludes Otero Alcántara.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a veteran dissident, thinks that the “news of the closure of Western Union branches is not good. It is a response to the Trump administration’s attempt to disconnect the Cuban military from the benefits of the dollar and the global economy. It is true that the military instead of dedicating itself exclusively to its mission, which is defense, has changed that function by dedicating itself to activities that should be in the hands of civilians ”.

“And they have done it in a captive way: with military logic and establishing an alternative country to the real country. But to what extent can sanctioning structures and not specifically individuals benefit Cubans? It does not seem possible in Cuba, where the alternative country is equivalent to the real economy. The crony capitalism has epaulettes in Cuba and directly or indirectly controls everything that is worth in the national economy.

“For Western Union to leave the island, it fundamentally damages Cuban families. It remains to be seen whether the volume of remittances that is moving in Cuba can be absorbed by alternative mechanisms. Or by other state. I have the impression that electoral demands are overlapping strategic effectiveness. The losers? The Cuban population and the departure from a better climate for democratization. The tough guys are not especially gifted to democratize a country, ”Cuesta Morúa sentenced.

Not a few Cubans think that the support of measures like these by a sector of exile in Miami, have the purpose of increasing discontent and generating future street protests. But so far, no political scientist or sociologist knows an effective formula to implement social outbreaks at a distance. If the intention of the White House has been to benefit the Cuban people. The effect that the measure has had on ordinary people is just the opposite.

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