A week after Cuba’s government shut down visa processing following the loss of its banking services with M&T Bank, the search for solutions to the problem is now sharing the stage with a blame-casting competition.
As we reported last week, the Cuban Interests Section was forced to suspend consular services after it were unable to find a bank to replace M&T. M&T announced last year, without much explanation, it was pulling out of the consular affairs business, but continued extending services temporarily to the Cuba’s government until a replacement bank could be found.
As Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive asks, “Why, amidst a thaw in relations, hasn’t the administration found a solution to this very aggravating problem?”
After reaching out to more than 50 banks in order to find a solution, the U.S. Department of State says it identified a “workable solution” but Cuban officials failed to pursue it effectively, as The Hill is now reporting.
However, the Cuban Interests Section says in a statement that it has made “huge” efforts over the last eight months to find new banking services, but U.S. policy impedes its ability to do so:
“In spite of the huge efforts made, as a result of the restrictions in force, derived from the policy of economic, commercial and financial blockade by the U.S. government against Cuba, it has been impossible for the Interests Section to find a U.S.-based bank that could operate the bank accounts of the Cuban diplomatic missions.”
Regulations on banking transactions related to Cuba and other sanctioned countries have caused banks to be leery of handling such transactions, Reuters reported in November 2013.
A report issued in December of 2013 by the Havana Consulting Group (English breakdown here) found that over 569,000 U.S.-based travelers went to Cuba in 2013. Many of the travelers were Cuban-Americans who spent an estimated $665 million in Cuba. Reuters reported that the suspension of visa services could hurt the already cash-strapped island.