April 24, 2014
Cuba suspends consular support in United States
MIAMI — Cuba suspended nearly all its consular services in the United States yesterday after it was unable to find a bank to handle the accounts of its diplomatic missions in Washington and New York, it said in a statement released to news organizations.
The decision by the Cuban Interests Section, Havana’s mission in Washington, stems from its inability to find a replacement for M&T Bank Corp, which had decided to stop offering services to foreign diplomatic missions.
In a statement Cuba blamed the decision on US economic sanctions against the island, saying consular services would remain closed indefinitely “until banking services are re-established.”
The decision threatened to disrupt a recent surge in travel between the two countries. It could also undermine the Obama administration’s “people-to-people” policy to increase Cubans’ contact with compatriots living in the US and groups of US visitors licensed to visit the Caribbean island. There are still tight restrictions on general US travel to the Cuba, however.
“It has been impossible for the Interests Section to find a US-based bank that could operate the bank accounts of the Cuban diplomatic missions, the Cuban Interests Section said in a news release yesterday.
Cuba briefly suspended consular services in November after it was informed by M&T that it was ending its banking services. M&T agreed to extend its deadline for deposits until February 14 for deposits, with the account to be closed on March 1.
The United States and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations but maintain lower-level interests sections in each other’s capitals.
Cuba has said the United States is required under diplomatic treaties to ensure “full facilities for the performance of the functions” of its diplomatic missions and consular offices in the United States.
The United States does facilitate connections but has no ability to compel private banks to provide services, according to US officials.
According to Cuban officials and US diplomats, both sides have worked for months to find a solution but it has been difficult to find another bank because of onerous sanctions regulations. In addition, the ae labor-intensive mounds of small, individual consular receipts Cuba deposits have complicated the search.