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Cuba stops US services

Miami, Feb. 15 (Reuters): Cuba suspended nearly all its consular services in the US yesterday after it was unable to find a bank to handle the accounts of its diplomatic missions in Washington and New York, it said in a statement released to news organisations.

The decision by the Cuban Interests Section, Havana’s mission in Washington, stems from its inability to find a replacement for MT Bank Corp, which had decided to stop offering services to foreign diplomatic missions.

In a statement Cuba blamed the decision on US economic sanctions against the communist-run island, saying consular services would remain closed indefinitely “until banking services are re-established”.

The decision threatened to disrupt a recent surge in travel between the two countries. It could also undermine the Obama administration’s “people-to-people” policy to increase Cubans' contact with compatriots living in the United States and groups of US visitors licensed to visit the Caribbean island. There are still tight restrictions on general U.S. travel to the communist-run country, however.

“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,” the Cuban Interests Section said in a news release yesterday.

Cuba briefly suspended consular services in November after it was informed by MT that it was ending its banking services. MT agreed to extend its deadline for deposits until February 14 for deposits, with the account to be closed on March 1.

The US and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations but maintain lower-level interests sections in each other's capitals. Cuba has said the US is required under diplomatic treaties to ensure “full facilities for the performance of the functions” of its diplomatic missions and consular offices in the United States. It does facilitate connections but has no ability to compel private banks to provide services, according to US officials. Both sides have worked for months to replace MT, but it has been difficult to find another bank because of onerous sanctions regulations and the labour-intensive mounds of small, individual consular receipts Cuba deposits.

The US had reached out to more than 50 banks, and “several may be exploring whether to provide Cuba with banking services”, according to state department spokeswoman Marie Harf. “We will continue to work with the Cuban mission as they seek to identify a long-term solution,” she said.

Officials at Buffalo, New York-based MT Bank did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

 
 
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