Going Beyond Western Union

Jorge Milanes

HAVANA TIMES — Last Tuesday, I went to a Western Union office in Villa Panamericana, a neighborhood to the east of Havana, about five km from the center. I needed to withdraw some money that an old friend had sent as a birthday present.

The office was still closed, although it was already gone past 9 o’clock and the opening hours sign said: Monday-Saturday, between 9 AM and 5:30 PM. Some people were already waiting in line. I asked who the last person was, I listened to some music on my earphones in the meantime, waiting for it to open.

Already gone half past nine, I realized that the first person in the line still hadn’t gone in. I asked them and they said that they didn’t know why it still hadn’t opened. Rumors started going around.

“Maybe they don’t have a connection, I’ve come here other times before and that’s happened,” a woman said to my back. “The same thing happened yesterday, luck isn’t on my side, every time I come, they open late,” another woman followed who was talking to her. 

On my right, two men were talking in English. One was a Cuban living in New York and it seemed it was his first time visiting Cuba, and the other was from the Bahamas.

I don’t normally listen to conversations that aren’t directed at me, but I had my reasons this time. I could perfectly understand the explanation the man from the Bahamas gave the Cuban-American.

“Many people here are looking for a way to make a bit of extra cash and I know that some customers solicit her services by calling her home phone (the person working in the office) so they don’t have to wait in line.  She comes with some operations already in progress which customers make at her home and once she hands over the money, she gets a commission,” he concluded.

The last time I went to this office, I found someone else being seen when I went inside. They hadn’t been in line and I had to wait for them to finish. It seems that this was one of the people the Bahamas man was referring to.

The office finally opened at 9:45 but, if I had to wait for her to finish off her personal requests, I would have gotten to work late. 

I now understand why it takes so long every time I go to this office. I decided to go back another time, but when I left, the Bahamas man stopped me and suggested I go to the CADECA (bureau de change), two blocks up, where they offer the same services… and without a line.

These bureaus de change, like their name indicate, don’t have the facilities or the authorization to do anything but exchange currencies, which include CUC transactions for Cuban pesos, US and Canadian dollars, Sterling pounds, euros, Mexican pesos and Swiss francs. I couldn’t confirm whether what the Bahamas man had told me was true, but I do know that even the monkey dances for money here in Cuba.

Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.

2 thoughts on “Going Beyond Western Union

  • If the recipient in Cuba has a bank account, it is much cheaper to transfer money from your bank account to theirs, than to pay the high fees charged by Western Union.

  • One of the many reasons that I enjoy Havana Times is that despite having a Cuban family and spending quite a bit of time in Cuba personally, I always learn new things about Cuba on this blog. Unfortunately, most of what I learn is tragic or even just pesky annoyances like the scam highlighted in this post. But, nonetheless, there is always something new.

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