December 13, 2017
Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cuba suspends consular services in US, blames embargo

Raul Castro, president of Cuba.
Raul Castro, president of Cuba.
Raul Castro, president of Cuba.

Cuba is shutting down nearly all of its consular services in the United States until further notice after it said no bank would handle its business, the government announced, blaming the situation on the longstanding US economic embargo.

The decision threatens to disrupt a recent surge in travel between the United States and Cuba on the eve of the busy holiday season, as well as the Obama administration's "people-to-people" policy of increased contact with Cuba.

The Cuban Interests Section, Havana's diplomatic mission in Washington, said in a news release that it was informed in July by its bank, M&T Bank, that it would no longer provide banking services to foreign missions.

Officials at Buffalo, New York-based M&T Bank did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

The Obama administration tried to convince M&T to keep the account active, according to a US official.

"The Department of State has been actively working with (the Cuban Interests Section) to identify a new bank to provide services to the Cuban missions," a spokeswoman for the department said.

The administration does not believe the decision was politically motivated and was brought on by the complicated nature of Cuba's banking needs and currency convertibility issues that did not make it commercially viable for M&T to keep the accounts open.

M&T has apparently divested all of its diplomatic accounts in recent years and this was the last remaining one.

In a press release, Cuba blamed the five-decade-old US embargo that limits financial transactions with the island, saying it had been unable to find another bank willing to operate its US accounts.

The decision came as a shock to travel companies offering services to Cuba. They said it would affect many travelers, both Cuban and American, who need documents approved by Cuban consular officials prior to departure.

Christmas period flights were sold out between Dec. 20 and Dec. 31 and those passengers would not be affected as they already have travel documents, said Tessie Aral, president of Miami-based ABC Charters, one of several companies offering charter flights to various cities in Cuba.

But other travelers who do not have up-to-date Cuban passports and need a visa to travel "would have a problem," she said.

Cuba said the loss of banking services meant consular services would only be available for humanitarian and special cases "until further notice."

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Tags:  Latin America  Cuba  US  Consular services  

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