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U.S. remittances help Cubans on island stay afloat

U.S. remittances help Cubans on island stay afloat
As U.S.-Cuba diplomacy continues, sisterly love makes a difference
Author: Hatzel Vela, Reporter,
Andrea Torres, Reporter,
Published On: Nov 10 2015 12:03:34 AM EST Updated On: Nov 11 2015
11:54:00 PM EST

Many Cubans have grown dependent on their relatives, who as expatriates
in the United States have the ability to send as much money as they can.

The United States hasn’t imposed restrictions on remittances to family
in Cuba since April 13, 2009. The U.S. policy changes announced December
2014 further relaxed the policy — allowing anyone to send up to $2,000
every three months. Travelers to Cuba are able to take up to $10,000 to
the island.

Sadi Cabrera lives in Cuba. After suffering two hernias, she has been
unable to work for several months. She has been getting about $8 a month
from the Cuban government’s unemployment system and some help from her
older sister, Maria Cabrera, who lives in South Florida.

“Every time she gets a chance, she sends me a little money, which is
very important,” said Cabrera, of Sancti Spiritus.

Remittances are a big help for the Cabrera family. Although the state
provides free housing, education, healthcare and subsidizes food prices,
living on $8 a month can be challenging for her and her 13-year-old
daughter, she said. Monthly salaries in Cuba can average from $20 to $24
a month.

Through the 1980s, the Soviet Union subsidies made up for
inefficiencies. Since its collapse, Cubans have suffered some serious
deprivations and declines in per capita caloric intake.

The Cabrera sisters have seen each other in Sancti Spiritus. The Cuban
government eventually welcomed Cuban-American visitors, which the
government had formerly branded as “gusanos,” Spanish for worms.

Remittances from the Cuban Diaspora reached $700 million by 1999,
according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
Today about 80 percent of remittances to Cuba come from the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service estimates
U.S. remittances to Cuba sum up to about $2 billion a year. The Havana
Consulting Group has had higher estimates and projected an increase of
nearly $4 billion this year.

U.S. and Cuban officials expect an increase, but the estimates aren’t
clear. Although Western Union remains the major conduit, there are
families who entrust travelers with cash deliveries to avoid fees.

About 20 percent of Cuban households benefit from U.S. remittances and
the majority have about $700 in savings outside of the formal banking
system, which may amount to $2.8 billion, according to the
Inter-American Dialogue, another Washington-based think tank.

The Cabrera sisters help each other in any way they can. Aside from
money, medicine and clothing also make their way from South Florida to
Sancti Spiritus. To overcome the limitations of food rations, there are
chickens living in the patio of the two-bedroom home in Sancti Spiritus.

Maria Cabrera said she dreams of a day when her sister living in Cuba
can show up to a supermarket and buy what she needs.

“You can’t buy beef in Cuba,” Cabrera said. “They will arrest you. It’s

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