As the U.S. continues to ease sanctions against Cuba, more money is being allowed to flow from the states to the island. While the changes have benefited those living in Cuba, the NBC6 Investigators found that millions of dollars being sent to Cubans abroad are being blocked by the U.S. government.
We first heard about the problems in January when local Cubans began calling and complaining that money they had sent their loved ones in other countries never arrived. They had no clue where the money had gone and after months of investigation, NBC6 discovered it is stuck in U.S. government bureaucracy.
It is all related to the diplomatic changes announced by President Obama on Dec. 17, 2014 which eased sanctions against Cuba in order to "empower Cubans with opportunities."
But what wasn't highly publicized is what happened to Cubans like Mayver Cruz, Manuel Suarez, Mario Infante and six others who contacted the NBC6 Investigators after money they sent Cuban relatives living in places like Mexico and Austria was blocked by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, known as the OFAC.
"That's people’s money and they can’t keep it just because," Cruz said.
As it turns out, the government has a list of people whose money they can block and Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba are on it.
A nine-month NBC6 investigation into OFAC records shows that between Jan. 17 and July 9 of this year, the U.S. government intercepted 1,308 transactions being sent to Cubans abroad, blocking a total of $9.4 million. Of those blocked cases, only 19 have been unblocked following a license application.
Manuel Suarez said he can't believe this is happening in this country. He said the NBC6 Investigators are the first people to tell him that in order to get his money back he needs to apply for a license with the OFAC. The process is not easy for someone who doesn't speak English or have access to the internet.
Mario Infante believes if the money were headed to Cuba it would've gotten there. He did get his $400 back after Senator Marco Rubio’s office stepped in. Mayver recovered her $2,500 back after NBC 6 helped her understand the process.
It's unclear why Cubans who live in other countries were put on the blocked list but the OFAC acts under presidential powers and can impose controls on transactions and freeze assets. NBC6 reached out to the OFAC but the agency doesn't answer media questions. We also formally asked for an interview with the president regarding this issue but never heard back.
To apply for a license to unblock funds being held by the OFAC, click here.