Western Union closes Cuba offices close as sanctions bite

Western Union closes Cuba offices close as sanctions bite
People are seen outside a Western Union office in Havana, as the US-based money transfer company shuts its officers in Cuba after new US sanctions on Nov. 23, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 24 November 2020

Western Union closes Cuba offices close as sanctions bite

Western Union closes Cuba offices close as sanctions bite
  • Money transfers from the US via Western Union were estimated at more than $1 billion last year
  • Current options for remittances include agencies that hire ‘mules’ to fly out to Cuba with cash

HAVANA: Western Union suspended its operations across Cuba on Monday evening as new US sanctions kicked in, cutting a key lifeline for many struggling Cuban families as the coronavirus pandemic deepens the Communist-run island’s economic crisis.
US President-elect Joe Biden has promised to roll back some sanctions on remittances. But any lifting of the suspension could take time and until then, Cuban Americans are expected to resort to alternatives that are more costly, less secure and less rapid.
Remittances to Cuba are believed to be around $2 billion to $3 billion annually, representing its third biggest source of dollars after the services industry and tourism.
Money transfers from the United States via Western Union were estimated at more than $1 billion last year, the majority of which was sent from Florida, according to John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Current options for remittances include agencies that hire “mules” to fly out to Cuba with cash and which predate Western Union’s start in Cuba 20 years ago, as well as companies that transfer dollars to Cuban accounts – though that money can only be used at state stores.
Cryptocurrency exchanges are also promoting themselves as an alternative. Cuban Americans can transfer digital currencies to middle men on the island who then give money to the Cuban Americans’ relatives.
But such platforms lack oversight, cryptocurrencies can fluctuate rapidly and unexpectedly in value and Internet access is still not a given in Cuba, Kavulich said.
“We’ve looked but there are no safe services,” said local resident Arturo Labaut.
The closures of Western Union’s 407 offices in Cuba came into effect after US President Donald Trump’s administration banned US firms sending remittances via military-controlled companies that include Western Union’s main Cuban partner.
His administration has also previously capped the amount Cuban Americans can send family members at $1,000 per quarter, and transfers of money to non-family members are no longer allowed.
The new ban comes just as Cuba has started enacting structural reforms to revive its state-run economy which have been long called for but which will spell pain for its residents in the meantime.
“It’s a bad time to be doing this because of the suffering it will cause,” said Florida International University professor Guillermo Grenier.
“It’s not governments that suffer, it’s people.”


EgyptAir reduces its ticket prices by 50% to European countries

EgyptAir reduces its ticket prices by 50% to European countries
Updated 25 January 2021

EgyptAir reduces its ticket prices by 50% to European countries

EgyptAir reduces its ticket prices by 50% to European countries
  • Business class tickets discounted by 35%, and economy class tickets by 25%, with discounts applicable when purchasing tickets until Jan. 31
  • Tourism revenues in Egypt plummeted by more than 69% during the last year due largely to the coronavirus disease pandemic

CAIRO: EgyptAir has announced a 50 percent discount on economy and business class tickets between Cairo and a number of European destinations.

The company offered discounts on its flights between Cairo and Paris for travel from Jan. 24 to Jan. 29, between Cairo and Amsterdam for travel on Jan. 24, 27 and 29, Cairo and London from Jan. 27 to Jan. 29 and between Cairo and Frankfurt on Jan. 28.

The company announced the continuation of discounts on flights between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah, Madinah and Al-Qassim.

Business class tickets are 35 percent off, and economy class tickets are 25 percent off, with discounts applicable when purchasing tickets until Jan. 31 and traveling until March 15, returning before March 31.

Last Thursday, the state-owned company began applying additional discounts to the price of fuel for the aviation sector, to reach 15 cents per gallon, in support of the tourism sector and to stimulate aviation.

Tourism revenues in Egypt plummeted by more than 69 percent during the last year due largely to the coronavirus disease pandemic, dropping to about $4 billion compared to more than $13 billion in 2019 due to the suspension of air traffic and travel worldwide, and the closure of borders between countries for several months.

Egypt announced an initiative to stimulate domestic tourism under the title “Winter in Egypt,” which relies on reducing the prices of domestic flight tickets.