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Cuba Suspends Consular Services In U.S., Blames Embargo

posted 28 Nov 2013, 16:12 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 28 Nov 2013, 16:13 ]

Cuba suspends consular services in U.S. after U.S. banks reportedly cease doing business with foreign missions.

HAVANA, CUBA (NOVEMBER 26, 2013) (CUBAN GOVERNMENT TV) -  Cuba is shutting down nearly all of its consular services in the United States until further notice after it said no bank would handle its business, the government announced on Tuesday (November 26) via state television, blaming the situation on the longstanding U.S. economic embargo.

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The Cuban Interests Section, Havana's diplomatic mission in Washington, said in a news release that it was informed in July by its bank, M&T Bank, that it would no longer provide banking services to foreign missions.

"On July 12, 2013, M&T Bank informed the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., about its decision to no longer provide banking services to foreign missions and a limited period of time was given to the Cuban Interests Section and the Cuban Permanent Mission to the United Nationsto close all accounts and find a new bank to do business with," said state tv anchors.

The decision threatens to disrupt a recent surge in travel between the United States and Cuba on the eve of the busy holiday season, as well as the Obama administration's "people-to-people" policy of increased contact with Cuba.

In Tuesday's (November 26) press release, Cuba blamed the five-decade-old U.S. embargo that limits financial transactions with the island, saying it had been unable to find another bank willing to operate its U.S. accounts.

"Due to the restrictions still in force, derived from the U.S. policy of economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, and despite the numerous efforts made with the Department of State and several banks, it has been impossible for the Cuban Interests Section to find a U.S. or international bank with branches in the U.S. to operate the bank accounts of the Cuban diplomatic missions. This situation will seriously affect the normal performance of the functions of the Cuban Interests Section and the Permanent Mission to the United Nations," anchor Agne Becerraannounced.

The Obama administration tried to convince M&T to keep the account active, according to a U.S. official.

M&T has apparently divested all of its diplomatic accounts in recent years and it's Cuban account was the last remaining one.

Cuba said the loss of banking services meant consular services would only be available for humanitarian and special cases "until further notice" and called on the United States to observe diplomatic treaties to keep it's U.S. mission running.

"Due to this circumstance of force majeure, the Cuban Interests Section is forced to interrupt consular services, starting from November 26, 2013, until further notice. Consular services will only be provided for humanitarian cases and other of specific nature. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., has reiterated to the U.S. Department of State the legal duty of the U.S. Government to meet the commitments undertaken under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of April 24, 1963, which stipulate that the receiving State shall accord full facilities for the performance of the functions of the diplomatic missions and consular offices. Likewise, the U.S. government is legally bound to comply with the agreement signed on May 30, 1977, which established the interests sections in both countries, as part as the reaffirmation of the commitment with the letter of International Treaties governing the diplomatic and consular relations."

The decision came as a shock to travel companies offering services to Cuba. They said it would affect many travellers, both Cuban and American, who need documents approved by Cuban consular officials prior to departure.

The decision is potentially a big blow to Cuba's tourism industry, one of the mainstays of the island's cash-strapped economy.

Around 350,000 Cuban Americans visit relatives in Cuba each year according to travel industry estimates. Many of them must seek entry visas if they do not have a valid Cuban passport.

"The Cuban Interests Section particularly regrets the effects this may have on Cuban and U.S. citizens, due to our Consular Section's impossibility to continue offering the services related to passport and visa issuance, authentication of documents and other services, with the negative impact on family visits, academic, cultural, educational, scientific, sports and other kind of exchange between Cuba and the United States. Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. 26 November 2013," added Becerra.

The Obama administration does not believe the decision was politically motivated and was brought on by the complicated nature of Cuba's banking needs and currency convertibility issues that did not make it commercially viable for M&T to keep the accounts open.

Cuban American critics of Cuba's communist government accused it of seeking to use the banking issue to pressure the Obama administration to relax U.S. sanctions against the island.

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