Nicaragua: The Specter of Controls over Family Remittances

Greater surveillance increases the risk that money will come in through informal routes

By Ivan Olivares  (Confidencial)

Western Union office. File photo: lavozdelsandinismo.com

HAVANA TIMES – One day last March, ‘Emiliana’, a 36-year-old Nicaraguan living in a city on the Pacific Coast, went to one of the agencies that receives and processes remittances from abroad, to pick up $70 that had been sent to her. She was only able to receive the money after two days of paperwork and an interrogation in which she was even asked about her religion.

“They had sent us the money to help somebody in the group, who is sick.  A contact in Spain got $50 for us, and somebody in Costa Rica contributed $20 more,” she told Confidencial, without revealing the names of those who were helping the sick person.

She went to the branch office that day, thinking that it would be a “normal withdrawal”. But to her surprise, they made her fill out a form requiring her to provide a great deal more information than one would think necessary: who does she live with? What is her marital status? Religion? The names of her parents? “Why would I have to provide so much personal information, just to receive a little money?” she asked, but she still doesn’t know.

The staff at the branch office called the central office in Managua, making her wait nearly another hour, and in the end told her that she had to bring in a letter explaining her relationship with someone she had sent $20 to in Guatemala a year ago, “while right next to me somebody received $700, without being asked a single question”.

“I asked them why so much paperwork, and they told me that the system had issued an alert.  Alert for what? I asked, and they told me that it could be a fraud alert.” In the end, they let her leave with the first $50.

More paperwork

This behavior coincides with the warning by some banking experts on the rules issued by the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF).

“Throughout the region there are regulations similar to this one that force (these agencies) to pass information to the Financial Analysis Unit, but in Nicaragua that raises suspicions that the UAF is functioning as a political police force, making people feel insecure knowing that there is an entity which may be using the information for espionage purposes. The UAF should not be used as an auxiliary of the Police or State security, as they have another purpose,” said the expert.

Although at that time there was still more than a month before the new rules would officially take effect, ‘Emiliana’ was subjected to the same kind of scrutiny that many remittance recipients may begin to experience.

She returned the next day with the letter they asked for.  At that point, the employees “made another call, and made me waste a lot of time.” In the end, she received the remaining 20 dollars, and left with the warning that each time she made a similar transaction, she would have to repeat the process all over.  Shortly after that, she was sent $100 for her birthday, and asked that it be put in the name of someone else in her family, who was able to receive the money without problems.

Looking for other ways

The UAF regulations, which oblige agencies to report any remittance of $500 or more, could force those who send money to Nicaragua to look for alternative ways to assist their relatives, without being subject to the regime’s supervision. 

“There will be people who do not want to be subjected to the scrutiny of the regime’, said the expert quoted above, who added that they will hardly stop sending money to their families. “What might happen is that they will send amounts under the UAF threshold, but they will not stop sending.” In his opinion, people might start sending the money with a relative, or someone else traveling to Nicaragua, as long as they do not have to give explanations to anyone.

In similar terms, Nicaraguan political scientist Manuel Orozco, researcher with the Inter-American Dialogue, wrote in an op-ed for Confidencial:

“The consequences of this regulation against remittances are multiple, and one is that they will have a tendency to influence informal channels, especially among those who fear being watched, or who feel intimidated by the very act of being under the magnifying glass of a repressive state,” he warned.

The Nicaraguan economy is highly dependent on remittances — in 2018, families received US $1.5 billion in remittances from outside of the country.  They are essential for the economy to function.

4 thoughts on “Nicaragua: The Specter of Controls over Family Remittances

  • May 12, 2019 at 5:15 am
    Permalink

    You follow very badly confidential news or the person that wrote this.
    westert union is well complicated with the money that is sent out of USA and not only to Nicaragua
    They ask you a lot of questions both the one who sends money and to the one who receives it
    before writing nonsense news
    investigate why wester union has those questionnaires
    that for fraud
    Personally, it bothers me that when I send money they confess everything here in the USA.

    Reply
  • May 12, 2019 at 5:26 am
    Permalink

    My recommendation to all people who will like to send money to Nicaragua without being questions here or there.

    Send money with Remitly company, or Zoom online and your money will go straight to the bank.
    Not one asked you nothing at Nicaragua and you only need to bring your I’d to pick up the money.
    Investigate before, god at least provide the good resources to our Nicaraguenses people need instead of pointing out in any negative way the government.
    Don’t do cheap politics in any thing.
    Focus
    Wrongdoing news,
    MarthaRuby

    Reply
  • May 12, 2019 at 4:32 pm
    Permalink

    I send money with envios 22-24. They pay in dollars and deliver to my house. In Miami only.

    Reply
  • May 12, 2019 at 4:33 pm
    Permalink

    La 2224 las he usado también. Muy eficientes

    Reply

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