Western Union says suspending U.S. transfers to Cuba

REUTERS

Western Union said on Friday it was suspending U.S. money transfers to Cuba in 10 days due to the Trump administration’s latest sanction on the Communist-run island, in a blow to the many Cubans who rely on remittances from family abroad.
Its customers will now have to find new ways to send transfers against the backdrop of Cuba’s deepest economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

One route may be in cash via flights from the United States that are resuming next week after Cuba closed its borders early in the pandemic, while other, younger digital platforms also exist.

Remittances have become one of the top sources of hard currency in an inefficient state-run economy laboring under a crippling U.S. trade embargo.
“Today we informed our customers they have limited time to send money to their loved ones from the U.S. to Cuba,” Western Union said in a statement.

The world’s largest money transfer firm said Nov. 22 was the deadline for customers to send money to Cuba while Nov. 23 was the deadline for them to pick it up.

That way it will wrap up its Cuba operations just before the new rules take effect on Nov. 26. These ban U.S. firms from sending remittances to the country via military-controlled companies like Fincimex, Western Union’s main Cuban partner.
Western Union said it had failed to find a solution in the one-month timeframe it was given.

“Our customers have our commitment that we will continue to explore every possible option to find a solution,” it said.

It may just be a question of time, however. as the team of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has signaled he will reverse Trump’s moves hurting family ties including remittances and travel.

Democrats must understand tyranny’s long shadow before they can woo Cuban Americans

Opinion Ana Menéndez Miami Herald

Cuban-American support for President Trump is the last revenge of Fidel Castro. And not just for the endlessly repeated observation that Fidel made “socialism” a dirty word. Fidel’s gift to Trump is more complicated, and if Democrats are ever to win over more Cubans, they’ll have to commit to understanding the mind warped by tyranny.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and jubilation filled the streets, my parents sat out the celebrations. “It’s a trick,” my father declared. Fidel had taught them to ignore the evidence before their own eyes. He’d injected them with a malignant cynicism that assumed that all leaders lie — often blatantly. And in their helplessness, they took refuge in the idea that the world was subject to all-powerful forces beyond their control.

At the start of Trump’s rise, I would despair that my own parents were seemingly blind to his autocratic bent: his demonization of enemies, his blatant lies, his dangerous attacks on democratic institutions (a tendency that has taken an even darker turn as a losing Trump trashes the electoral system in order to cling to power.)

What I had failed to understand, along with many fellow Democrats, is that autocracy is often the organizing structure of the mutilated body politic. The victims of dictatorship are forever vulnerable to its methods. One can observe the same paradox at work in other émigré communities.

Some on the American left have not helped matters with their sometimes uncritical support of repressive regimes. Bernie Sanders’ praise of Castro’s literacy campaign was a blunder. If you’re an anti-Trumper having trouble understanding why, imagine him seizing absolute power and forcing you into an exile where — years hence — some politician intones, “Say what you will about Trump, but at least he didn’t start any foreign wars.”

Like many Cubans, some Democrats have fallen victim to Cold War binaries that no longer speak to our world. We still talk of “left-wing” and “right-wing” dictatorships as if they weren’t books in the same malignant series. When you attack Trump while finding gems in Castro’s legacy, you’re saying that some autocracies are better than others. Which is exactly how Trump’s Cuban-American supporters — even those who acknowledge his anti-democratic tendencies — see his rule.

It’s important to emphasize that Cuban Americans did not hand the presidency to Trump (as too much post-election reaction had it): That dubious honor more rightfully goes to white women, 55% of whom, according to NBC News, voted for Trump. It’s important to note that his support in Florida also increased among other minority voters.

I can’t speak to how Democrats should engage voters from those groups. But I can implore them not to give up on Cuban Americans.

Instead, Democrats should emphasize their common ground with Cuban values. There are plenty of liberal Cuban Americans in Miami to help lead the way, starting with my friend Carmen Pelaez, who tirelessly led the Cubans for Biden campaign.

As I always remind my parents, I’m a liberal because of the way they raised me: to care for the poor, to work for social justice, to protect the environment. Cuban Americans have one of the highest sign-up rates for Obamacare. And everyone has an indigent Republican tio or abuelita on Medicaid or “disability.”

Yes, several heavily Cuban American districts helped hand Florida to Trump. But those same districts overwhelmingly voted to raise the minimum wage in Florida to $15 an hour — an initiative that passed thanks to their support.

My community has a lot of work to do. Racism remains endemic. Whiteness is celebrated, even by those who would not be considered white anywhere else. We are a people warped by colonialism and dictatorship and still profoundly alienated from ourselves. But our bedrock values remain surprisingly progressive, guided by José Martí’s conviction that we are free, but not to be indifferent to human suffering.

The Democratic Party would do well to engage the community on this deeper level: not as a separate and inscrutable “they”, but as equals in the fight for justice, always sensitive to the ways that exposure to tyranny can distort a peoples’ instincts of self-preservation. It’s training that will come in handy in the years to come as the Democrats begin to woo recovering Trump supporters as well.

Ana Menéndez, a writer and former journalist, is an associate professor with the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab and the Department of English at Florida International University.

Cuba welcomes first tourists in months

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba rolled out the red carpet on Friday for the first planeload of tourists to arrive on the Communist-run island in months as it struggles toward a post-pandemic new normalcy.

The import-dependent country has been plunged into crisis and scarcity by tough U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 outbreak.

The arrival was seen as a hopeful sign for tens of thousands of laid-off leisure industry employees, shuttered small businesses and hard-pressed residents in general.

An Air Canada plane arrived at midday at the Cayo-Coco airport on the northcentral coast. Air Canada Vacations, the airline’s tour business, said it would now fly weekly to Cuba and biweekly beginning next month.

Cuba closed its airports in March due to the pandemic. While some hotels are open under international sanitary regulations at resorts in isolated areas such as Cayo-Coco, there is no indication when Havana and other cities might allow foreign visitors to return.

Cuba has managed to control the pandemic in most of the country. But it is currently trying to contain a new outbreak in Havana, along with lesser outbreaks in a few other provinces.

The country has reported nearly 4,300 COVID-19 cases to date and 100 deaths.

Canada has long been Cuba’s most important tourist provider, accounting for 1.1 million of the 4.2 million arrivals in 2019, according to the government.

Industry revenues were $2.6 billion last year.

The United States bans residents from making tourist trips to Cuba as part of its decades-old trade embargo, but U.S. citizens can still travel to the Caribbean island for purposes including education.

Cuba braces for Storm Eta after deadly toll in Central America

Honduras flood from Eta

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s meteorology office warned on Saturday of torrential rain and flooding as Tropical Depression Eta churned northwards towards the Caribbean island, and on track to Florida, after killing more than 70 people in Central America last week.

Eta could strengthen back into a tropical storm over the warm Caribbean waters before making landfall on the southern coast of central Cuba overnight, the office said, warning of coastal flooding and winds of 80-100 km per hour.

Flooding could be a problem more broadly, it said, given Cuba was already waterlogged in the wake of heavy rains of late and Eta could potentially dump more than 300mm of water on central and mountainous regions.

“As the ground is already saturated, any additional rain could provoke inundations especially in mountainous areas and along the rivers,” Cuba’s best known meteorologist Jose Rubiera said on the Friday evening news broadcast on state-run TV.

The northwestern coast, including Havana’s seafront, will probably flood moderately from Sunday to Tuesday, he said.

The government – well known for preparedness in the face of natural disasters – discussed measures on Friday to evacuate people, especially those living downstream from dams, and protect crops, homes and animals, according to state-run media.

Given Eta’s stormfront was uneven, there was the risk of torrential rain occurring across the entire country and Prime Minister Manuel Marrero warned against complacency in eastern or western regions.

The U.S. National Hurricane Centre (NHC) warned that flash and urban flooding would also be a possibility for the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, the Bahamas and southern Florida.

Tropical storm conditions were possible in the Florida Keys and south and central Florida from late Sunday, it said.

One of the fiercest storms to hit Central America in years, Eta struck Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday with winds of 150 miles per hour (241 kph) before weakening to a tropical depression as it moved inland and into neighboring Honduras and Belize.

Across swathes of the mostly poor countries wedged between Mexico and Colombia, high winds, torrential rains and catastrophic flooding caused deadly mudslides and damaged hundreds if not thousands of homes.

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

The Miami Herald

10/28/2010

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, non-military 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 US, 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,” spokesperson 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 Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-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.

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Cuba’s Government Targets Social Media Influencers

YouTubers Have Faced Police Harassment and Death Threats

Credit: Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org

Cuba’s government has a well-documented history of harassing dissidents, journalists, and opposition party members. Now it has a new target: social media influencers.

On October 14, police arrived at the homes of four Cuban YouTubers about to participate in an online forum discussing Cuban politics. Two—Jancel Moreno and Maykel Castillo—were detained, Iliana Hernández and others had their internet cut. One, 21-year-old Ruhama Fernández, had to hide to participate in the discussion by phone.

Ruhama Fernández

The incident was just the latest example of the type of harassment influencers have faced.

Take the case of Fernández, who started her YouTube channel just ten months ago.

In Fernández’s videos, which are often critical of the government, she discusses current events and interviews people about their daily lives or their views on politics.

Soon after she started making videos, her friends began receiving citations from the police, she told Human Rights Watch. Officers would appear outside their homes and their parents’ workplaces. “They wanted to know who I was, where I lived, if I had a boyfriend.”

People began stopping her brother on the street—sometimes police, but often people dressed as civilians. “They tell him I should stop doing what I’m doing, or I might disappear.”

In April, she received her first police citation. At the station an officer told her she should stop posting videos, or else they could prosecute her for “counter-revolutionary” activities.

In July, authorities forced her internet provider to cut the connection at her home. Fernández received internet access through an informal network run by one of her neighbors—a common practice in Cuba where internet access is extremely limited. The neighbor said that police threatened to shut down the entire connection if she continued supplying Fernández.

In August, authorities denied Fernández a passport to travel to the United States to visit her parents. An Interior Ministry official told her she could not leave the country for “reasons of public interest,” a justification measure frequently invoked to bar dissidents from traveling.

In September, after being questioned a second time by police, she posted a video detailing her experience. Days later, she received a call from an unknown number threatening to “finish” her off if she left her house.

Like others, Fernández says she is undeterred. “Now that I’ve told the truth, there’s no turning back.”