Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cuba: Consular Services Suspended Until a New Bank Can be Found to Service Diplomatic Accounts

According to The Associated Press, Cuba has suspended consular services for the second time in less than three months after being unable to find a new US bank for its diplomatic accounts, officials announced Friday (February 14).

M and T Bank decided to sever its relationship with Cuba last year, but agreed to continue processing its banking through March 1 and accepting deposits through February 17.
Cuban Interests Section officials in Washington said that "in spite of huge efforts made" they had been unable to find a replacement bank. Consequently, it was being forced to suspend consular services, effective Friday.
The Cuban diplomats blamed Washington's embargo against the Communist-run island for the inability to get a new bank, though it has been in place for more than five decades. It is unclear as to why the bank is no longer agreeable to continuing the relationship. 
COMMENT: The US State Department had reached out to more than 50 banks, and that several "may be exploring whether to provide the interests section with banking services," said deputy spokesperson Marie Harf.
The US and Cuba maintain limited diplomatic relations. Since 1997, both countries have operated Interests Sections under the legal protection of the Swiss embassies. The Interests Sections allow Cubans and Americans to request travel documents such as visas and passports, among other services.
Travel operators had been preparing for the February 17 deadline, which falls on a bank holiday, and advised those who plan to travel to the Caribbean island to get their documents beforehand.
An estimated 557,000 US travelers are expected to legally visit Cuba in 2014, according to one estimate by the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group. Analyst Emilio Morales has projected that they will bring with them some $2 billion. Most of the travelers are Cuban- Americans; a small amount is Americans taking part in licensed cultural exchange programs.
Morales said he estimated 40,000 US travelers would visit in March and again in April. On average, they spend about $3,100 per person, roughly $124 million each month.
Cubans living in the US who still have a valid Cuban passport would still be able to travel to the island, but those who need to request a visa or have their passport renewed would be impacted.
November through March is the high season for US travelers participating in "people-to-people" travel to the island.  The upcoming spring break and summer is when more Cuban-Americans tend to travel to visit family.