By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – For years Cuban Americans were able to send money to relatives on the island via Western Union. Those cash transfers had to be coordinated in Cuba by a government agency called Fincimex.

On Monday, the Western Union offices in Cuba were closed.

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It was all part of a Trump administration crackdown on Cuban businesses controlled by the Cuban military. So, how are Cuban Americans going to get money to their loved ones on the island?

A total of $3.5 billion in remittances reach the island annually, many Cubans rely on that cash to pay for food and services, as well as, to finance local private business.

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Jorge Duany, Director of the Cuban Research Institute at FIU, says, “Given the fact that tourism has practically collapsed, this as a result of the pandemic, the remittances have become the most important.”

Four-hundred Western Union offices are shuttered because of a Trump administration sanction prohibiting a Cuban government agency from handling financial transactions.

The policies aimed at chocking off any American dollars from support of Cuban businesses, such as restaurants and hotels that are controlled or owned by the Cuban military.

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“It is going to be very tough for the Cuban people to survive,” said Duany.

With $3.5 billion on the line, there is another way to get cash to Cuba. ‘Mulas’ or mules are people carrying cash to the island through flights to Cuba.
That has been a long-time tradition.

‘It is estimated that about half of all money that goes to Cuba goes through these informal channels. It is likely this form of transfer will increase in the immediate future,” added Duany.

And there are smaller companies that offer the service so far not impacted by restrictions. There is also bitcoin, bt would it work with tech-savvy people on the island?

“I don’t know how many people know about it. How many have the technological resources to give and receive bitcoin? It could be one of the new ways to spend money now that Western Union is going to leave the market.”

But is there change on the horizon? In January, a new administration in the White House will be in charge.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have already expressed interest in relaxing restrictions on remittances and travel by Cuban Americans.

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Cuba experts have CBS4 that unraveling the Trump-Cuba policies, especially those that deal with tourism dollars flowing to the Cuban military might be difficult.