HAVANA TIMES – The Central Bank of Cuba today authorized the use of MasterCards issued by Stonegate Bank in the US and Banco Popular of Puerto Rico in operations at ATMs in the Cuban capital.
“The possibility starts after having solved the pending financial and legal issues and thanks to the actions of the responsible Cuban entities charged with processing MasterCard and the external provider that enables us to process their operations,” said a statement from Central Bank of Cuba.
To date, using MasterCard was limited to transactions in outlets such as hotels or shops, however it was not possible to withdraw cash from the ATM network.
In this new phase, which includes cash withdrawals, the service will be limited to ATMs in Havana, but “will gradually extend to the whole country,” Irma Martinez, vice president of the Central Bank of Cuba, told reporters.
“We need to promote the use of this type of facility for payments,” said Martinez during an international event on monetary transfers held until next Wednesday in Havana.
A couple of weeks ago Stonegate Bank, based in South Florida, announced the issuance of the first special credit card for use in Cuba.
The news was a step in the thaw between Cuba and the United States and its issuance has been a success, issuing more than 500 cards in just 15 days, said Stonegate Bank representative Tania Fernandez.
The Stonegate Bank Master-cards are specially designed for Cubans living in the United States or for other US citizens traveling to Cuba within the 12 categories allowed by Washington.
Until now, US or Cuban/American visitors had to bring cash and change it into Cuban currency paying a 10 percent penalty imposed by Cuba. The island’s government says the fee is to offset the penalties suffered by the Cuban State in its international transactions with cash dollars.
Last March, before the historic visit to the island of US President Barack Obama, the US administration announced that it had authorized the use of the dollar in transactions between the two countries. Cuba responded by saying it would lift the 10% penalty on cash dollars when it could open up bank accounts in the US to carry out its transactions.
However the shift in US policy has yet to occur in practice. Cuban authorities said on Monday that bank transfers between the US and Cuba are still made through third countries due to the restrictions of the US embargo on the island.
The vice president of the Central Bank said for direct wires to take place it would require that Cuban banks “be allowed to open accounts in US banks and that is still not possible due to the embargo regulations.”
“We are open to any opening but that depends on the US banks,” said Martinez.