By Dave Sherwood
HAVANA (Reuters) – Western Union (NYSE: WU) confirmed on Thursday it had temporarily suspended remittances from the United States to Cuba more than a week ago, blaming what it described as technical issues with processing transactions there.
Western Union said its services had been disrupted since Jan. 28. Several other companies which offer similar services have also reported outages in recent days, paralyzing a lifeline for Cubans suffering through the worst economic crisis in decades. Cuba’s state-run Banco Metropolitano and Fincimex have also reported outages.
“The technical issues exist with the processing of transactions on the island,” a Western Union spokesperson said in an email. “Western Union operations are stable, hence this being an isolated issue with money transfers sent from the US to Cuba only.”
Cuban officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the outage.
The administration of Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel reported a cyberattack on Jan. 31, which it said had led it to put off a five-fold increase in gasoline prices planned for Feb. 1. Officials have not discussed a link between the reported cyberattack and remittance processing.
Western Union, among the world’s top providers of money transfer services, resumed remittances to the communist-run island in 2023, nearly three years after the Trump administration put in place sanctions that had triggered a halt in service.
Remittances have long been a crucial source of income for Cuban families, but the need has become even more acute of late amid a severe economic crisis resulting from tighter U.S. sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and floundering tourism.
Studies show that almost 70% of the Cuban population receives remittances in varying forms, according to a 2023 Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)report, though there are no official figures available from the Cuban government.
The Western Union spokesperson told Reuters the company was seeking to contact customers who have had transactions impacted.