Published: February 22, 2014
TAMPA — Those in favor of normalized relations with Cuba have held out hope that a bank in Florida — the state with the largest Cuban-American population in the U.S. — would agree to service the island nation’s bank accounts when others won’t.
Continued regular air travel between the U.S. and Cuba may hang in the balance.
But a bill advancing through the state Legislature may dash those hopes in what may be a case of unintended consequences.
House Bill 673, sponsored by Milton Republican Rep. Doug Broxson, includes a number of changes in financial regulations, one of which would require Florida banks doing business with those suspected of supporting terrorism to file the same reports with the state as they already are required to do on a federal level.
Under the federal law, this includes nations designated as sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan.
“Banks were afraid of doing business with Cuba before this bill was proposed because of the federal regulations and fines,” said Bill Hauf, president of Island Travel & Tours, whose flights serve Tampa and Havana. “Now that the state is also involved, adding another level of bureaucracy and oversight, there is no way a state bank will want to be involved.”
Because of the strict reporting requirements and the threat of fines for failing to follow them meticulously, it appears no one wants to be Cuba’s banker in the United States.
The requirements were imposed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to help keep terrorist money from entering the U.S. through financial institutions.
Cuba’s former banker, Buffalo-based M&T Bank, has ceased depositing checks for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., and on March 1 will cut all ties with Cuba.
Until a new U.S. bank agrees to handle Cuba’s account, the Interests Section has stopped all services that require financial transactions, including the issuing of visas needed to travel to Cuba.