US blockade separates and punishes Cuban families

Photo: Simon Westermair from Pixabay

The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States government on Cuba separates and punishes families, says Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Cuba’s foreign minister.

Former US president Donald Trump’s administration restricted authorisations for certain remittance payments to Cuba in September 2019, by imposing a cap of US$1000 a quarter as the maximum amount one remitter could send to one Cuban national.

That same month, the administration banned “U-turn” transactions.

These transactions authorised US financial institutions to process many types of Cuba-related transactions between non-US parties, provided certain prohibited parties or activities were not involved. U-turn transactions enabled non-US businesses and individuals to engage in transactions with Cuba in US dollars.

In June 2020, Trump blacklisted Financiera Cimex SA (FINCIMEX), a Cuban commercial entity that processed remittances to Cuba for Western Union, by including FINCIMEX in the Office of Foreign Assets Control's (OFAC) list of restricted entities. The OFAC, a financial intelligence and enforcement agency of the US Treasury Department, administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions in support of US national security and foreign policy objectives.

The US government claims that FINCIMEX is a Cuban military-controlled firm and that the Cuban government or the armed forces appropriated 20‒40% of the money sent to Cuba from the US.

As a result of the blacklisting, US companies are no longer able to have any dealings with FINCIMEX.

Contrary to the US assertions that FINCIMEX is controlled by the Cuban military, the Cuban government maintains that it has no direct role in the receipt of remittances, which is purely a commercial activity managed by a commercial entity, namely FINCIMEX. Yamil Hernández González, general manager of FINCIMEX, says that FINCIMEX is a 100% civilian entity and none of its workers are employed or engaged in the military.

Further, the income for services rendered is part of the general income of the country, and is allocated both to the maintenance and operation of the company itself and to making contributions to the national budget and to the economy as a whole.

To make matters worse, in September 2020, another commercial entity, American International Services (AIS), was blacklisted. This made it virtually impossible to process remittances through both FINCIMEX and AIS, and eliminated the main formal channels for sending remittances to Cuba.

Finally, some 400 Western Union offices in Cuba were closed on November 23 last year. Western Union had charged the remittance sender in the US US$5 for every US$100 sent as a commercial commission and paid FINCIMEX US$1 for every US$100 of remittances for services rendered.

The extraterritorial nature of the US policy increasingly affects the services provided by FINCIMEX and hinders the flow of remittances to Cuba from different parts of the world, not only the US.

The inclusion of FINCIMEX in OFAC's list of restricted entities generates fear in the international banking sector. Banks around the world are now generally reluctant to process transactions with the commercial entity.

Even if a transaction does not involve US dollars or contain flows from US companies, the international banking sector is under extreme pressure from the blockade not to process or handle the transaction.

According to the Cuban government, the US blockade resulted in losses to Cuba of US$9.15 billion at current prices, and $436 million in average monthly damages, from April 2019 to December 2020.

The US measures have had a detrimental impact on the standard of living of Cuban families, many of whom relied on the regular receipt of remittances.

The measures are also having a negative effect on the budgets of remittance senders in the US. They are now paying up to US$30 or more for every $100 sent to relatives or friends in Cuba through irregular channels.

The Cuban government has expressed concern, not only at the inequity of this additional impost on families both in Cuba and in the US, but also at the rise in uncontrolled transfers of currency from the US to Cuba.

US President Joe Biden has directed his administration to examine remittances to Cuba, but there have been no changes in US policy to date.