Western Union Scrambles to Comply After U.S. Sanctions Cuba

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In Brief
  • The government of Cuba has announced that Western Union will have to cease operations on the island due to new U.S. sanctions.

  • The sanctions prohibit U.S. citizens from sending money to companies linked to the Cuban military.

  • Western Union, which works in Cuba through military-owned Fincimex, insists that it can find a way to keep operating while maintaining regulatory compliance.

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The government of Cuba has announced that Western Union will have to close its 407 offices on the island and cease operations following a new round of sanctions imposed by the U.S. government.



The sanctions, revealed to the public on Oct 27 by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), are set to go into effect from Nov 26. Western Union insists it can find a way to continue operating legally.

Under the new sanctions regime, all individuals and legal entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction including citizens, residents, and businesses, are not permitted to process remittances to or from entities identified on the Cuba Restricted List as having links to the Cuban military.

This effectively removes Western Union’s Cuban remittance partner – the military-owned company Fincimex – from the remittance picture.

 

The Politics of Fincimex Sanctions

For the best part of two decades, Fincimex has acted as Western Union’s main Cuban partner, giving it special status as the pipeline used by Cuba’s estimated 2.7 million-strong U.S. diaspora to send money to friends and family back home.

According to a statement signed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the new sanctions are intended to disempower the Cuban military from further oppressing the Cuban people. Pompeo argued the sanctions would also prevent interference in Venezuela using proceeds from diaspora remittances.

The statement reads in part:

“The Cuban government and military have created a system that seizes hard currency through military-operated financial mechanisms, such as FINCIMEX and AIS, and takes a cut from the remittances ordinary Cubans receive from abroad, including from the United States.”

Reuters reports that some analysts believe that the move is part of a political calculation by the Trump administration to shore up its vote in Florida where the majority of Cuba’s historically anti-communist U.S. diaspora population lives.

Western Union Not Giving Up Yet

In a statement provided to Reuters, Western Union insisted that it believes it can find a way to carry on Cuba’s operations while maintaining compliance with the new rules. The statement said:

“We are exploring ways to comply with the new rules and regulations on Cuba. We will provide additional information as we formalize those plans. In the meantime, Western Union services between the U.S. and Cuba remain operational.”

While Western Union does not intend to give up its lucrative Cuban operations without a fight, the Cuban government’s stance is noticeably less conciliatory. On Oct 29, a statement shared by the embattled island state’s Foreign Ministry said that the government has no intention of giving up ground.

That counter statement in part reads:

“Fincimex, which is part of the Cuban financial system, is the entity designated by a sovereign decision of the Cuban government, to guarantee the remittances to Cuba from the United States, which will be completely discontinued. Among the US counterparts is Western Union, an entity whose 407 outlets in Cuba, scattered all around the country, will be shut down as a result of the implementation of these brutal measures. It falls upon the US government the full responsibility for the interruption of the remittances service between both countries.”

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David is a journalist, writer and broadcaster whose work has appeared on CNN, The Africa Report, The New Yorker Magazine and The Washington Post. His work as a satirist on 'The Other News,' Nigeria's answer to The Daily Show has featured in the New Yorker Magazine and in the Netflix documentary 'Larry Charles' Dangerous World of Comedy.' In 2018, he was nominated by the US State Department for the 2019 Edward Murrow program for journalists under the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP). He tweets at @DavidHundeyin

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