Desmond Boylan / Reuters
A car drives past the building of the the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba, The U.S. Interests Section, (USINT), in Havana. Its Washington counterpart has been shuttered by a banking problem.
HAVANA –United States diplomatic officials are helping their Cuban counterparts resolve a banking snafu that has forced the suspension of consular services, impacting travel to the island nation.
Cuba suspended all its consular services out of Washington until further notice late Tuesday, and is no longer issuing passports or visas, saying no U.S. bank would handle its business.
The Cuban Interests Section, Havana's diplomatic mission in Washington, said in a news release that Buffalo, NY-based M&T Bank was no longer providing banking services, Reuters reported.
The bank’s decision is thought be commercially-motivated, and had been announced in July but Cuban officials were unable to find a replacement.
Although U.S. sanctions prohibit banks from commercial activity in Cuba, the U.S. Treasury has authorized an exception for Cuba’s diplomatic offices in Washington.
The problem could impact travel over the holiday period, when more than a thousand passengers a day were expected to travel from the U.S. to Havana.
Among the 3 million visitors to the island in 2012, about 476,000 were Cuban Americans and Cuban residents of the United States who said they were visiting relatives. Another 98,000 were registered as members of people-to-people programs in which travelers engage in specific educational or cultural activities.
Until further notice, only humanitarian requests for travel will be processed.
In a briefing Wednesday, the State Department said it was “actively working” with the Cuban Interests Section to find a new bank.
"The U.S. government seeks to help foreign missions in the United States that have trouble obtaining banking services, while ensuring the continued security of the U.S. financial system including through appropriate regulatory oversight,” the department said in a briefing.
“We would like to see the Cuban missions return to full operations.”
Reuters contributed to this report.
First published November 27 2013, 11:15 AM