Cuba Forced To Suspend Consular Services With U.S. After Banking Issues

Cuba's mission to the United States said it has been forced to halt nearly all consular services effective Tuesday because the bank that handled its accounts was severing the relationship, and diplomats have been unable to find another with which to do business.

M&T Bank told Cuba in July that it had decided to stop providing banking services to foreign missions and said Havana would have to close its accounts, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington said in a statement.

Despite efforts with the U.S. State Department and multiple banks, Cuba has been unable to line up either an American bank or a foreign one with branches in the country to take its business, the statement said.

It blamed "restrictions ... derived from the U.S. policy of economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba" — a reference to the U.S. embargo, which has been in place since the Kennedy administration and bars most financial transactions with the Communist-run island.

Representatives of M&T Bank did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment, and a spokeswoman at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana said the State Department did not have any comment at the moment.

Washington and Havana broke diplomatic relations decades ago at the height of Cold War tensions. Since 1977 they have maintained "interests sections" rather than embassies in each other's capitals, with both facilities formally under the legal protection of Switzerland.

Cuba also operates a Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York.

Cuba said that until further notice, consular services such as passport and visa processing will be cut at both of its outposts in the U.S. except in "humanitarian" and other unspecified cases.

Havana argued that under international conventions, the U.S. State Department is legally bound to provide the conditions for diplomatic missions to function.

"The Cuban Interests Section particularly regrets the effects this may have on Cuban and U.S. citizens," the statement said, warning of a "negative impact on family visits, academic, cultural, educational, scientific, sports and other kind of exchange."

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