Without remittances from the United States, Cubans re-float their old system of ‘mules’

Faced with the restrictions imposed by the government of Donald Trump, the island is looking for ways to survive. How do they do?

Accustomed to avoiding difficulties, Cubans reactivate their archaic but efficient system of “mules” on the Miami-Havana air bridge to mitigate the cut-off of family remittances and other restrictions imposed by the Donald Trump government.

With the opening of the Havana airport on November 15, the transit of people was restarted between Cuba and the United States after almost eight months of closure due to the pandemic.

But also a carrying money and merchandise vital for survival, even more so after the closure on Monday of Western Union, the formal channel for sending remittances for nearly 20 years.

“This is a help for the family, and more so with the current dollar measures (cut remittances),” Ernesto Pérez, 42, who arrived in Havana after nine months without seeing his parents, told AFP news agency. .

“Resolve” is the key word of a philosophy of survival, formed during six decades of the North American embargo and inefficiencies of the Soviet-style economic model.

No traveler admits to doing business, especially when Cuban television reports daily police cases against illegalities that end with imprisonment and confiscation.

It is a traffic of ants, regulated by customs laws and tolerated before a shortage reinforced by the pandemic, which left the stores “peeled”, with shelves that only offer bottles of water, rum and honey.

“It’s not just money: many important goods come through the airport,” economist Ricardo Torres, from the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, confirms to AFP.

That is why the great news, in addition to the restart of flights, was the removal of luggage limit of two 32-kilo packages, established during the pandemic. Travelers from Miami are characterized by the large number of bags and suitcases they carry.

The victory of Joe Biden in the United States raises expectations among Cubans, who hope that after he takes office on January 20, he will cancel a good part of the more than 130 restrictions that Trump added to the embargo.

“I think that what is being eliminated now with Western Union is a channel, but there are other channels, which I am sure that many, on both sides of the Strait (of Florida), are already trying to continue this flow,” adds Torres.

On Monday, the official newspaper Granma He warned that the closure of that US company eliminates “the official and safest ways to send remittances” and “may stimulate illegality.”

Remittances, estimated at about 3,500 million dollars annually, They are an important support for many Cuban families, and the second entry of foreign currency to the country, after the sale of medical services and ahead of tourism.

Ney Ascón, 53, is a sought-after appliance mechanic in the capital. “In this time (of pandemic) I had nothing, we have worked with practically nothing,” he tells AFP.

With the resumption of flights “there are some pieces that one does not have, that there are, they can send it to you, they can look for it, that is what benefits us,” he says.

In contrast to the state shortageSmall street spots proliferated like mushrooms in October and November in Havana.



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