The Cuban Interests Section, Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C., has indefinitely suspended most of its consular services after being unable to obtain US banking services. M&T Bank notified Cuba in July that it would no longer offer its services to foreign missions and must therefore close Cuba’s accounts.
“Despite the numerous efforts made with the State Department and several banks, it has been impossible to find a US or international bank with branches in the US to operate the bank accounts of the Cuban diplomatic missions,” said the Cuban agency in a statement. Cuba claimed these difficulties stem from “restrictions . . . derived from the US policy of economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba.”
The Cuban government blamed the US trade embargo — sanctions enacted by the Kennedy administration over 50 years ago — prohibiting commercial transactions between the two countries. There are exceptions to the embargo, like consular services, and the United States also has its located in Havana.
Referencing diplomatic treaties, Cuba said the United States must ensure “full facilities for the performance of the functions” of its diplomatic missions and offices in the country. Cuba also has a permanent mission with the United Nations in New York.
However, “businesses just do not give up good clients for no apparent reason,” said José Azel, a senior scholar at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “Could Cuba be using this to put additional pressure on the U.S. to relax its economic sanctions? Is there a business reason as to why Cuba cannot find a bank willing to work with them?”
As a result of being unable to resolve their banking difficulties, the mission said it will no longer process passports and visas except for humanitarian cases, thus prohibiting Cuban-Americans from visiting their relatives on the island. Currently, the Cuban government requires permission to reenter the island, even for a short time, for Cubans who spend more than two years away. In the United States, Cubans without US citizenship must renew their Cuban passports every two years.
“The Interests Section regrets the impact this situation will cause to Cuban and North American citizens, given the inability of the consular section to continue issuing passports, visas and document processing,” said the statement. It expressed concern over “the negative impact on family visits, academic, cultural, educational, scientific, sports and other kind [sic] of exchange between Cuba and the United States.”
Last year, a total of 2.8 million tourists traveled to Cuba, including 98,000 US citizens and 350,000 Cuban-Americans. US travel to Cuba increased from previous years due to President Barrack Obama’s loosening of travel restrictions, and travel to Cuba has remained a hot topic among both embargo supporters and opponents.