Progreso Weekly

Chess players in Havana
Chess players in Havana.  Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The roast pork will have to wait. Some of the people who had planned to travel from the U.S. to Cuba in December to celebrate Christmas, bid farewell to 2013 and spend the school holidays with their relatives will be unable to do so “until further notice.”

The reason is that the Cuban Interests Section in Washington has had to suspend its consular services for lack of a banking institution to handle its accounts, something that will directly affect the issuance of passport, visas and other routine services.

“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,” said an official note from the Cuban government.

Last July, the M&T Bank, which traditionally provided its services to foreign diplomatic missions, gave the Cuban Interests Section and the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations a deadline to find a new bank with which to work. The search was futile.

Despite the fact that, according to the note, the government of the United States should “meet the commitment undertaken under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” no solution has been found since July  that might guarantee the continuity of the banking services.

Consulted by Progreso Weekly, José Pertierra, a Washington-based attorney of Cuban origin, said that “due to the blockade and the fact that Cuba is incredibly on the list of countries that support terrorism, the banking rules facing any bank that dares to accept the Interests Section as a client are so, so cumbersome that it becomes more expensive for the bank to have Cuba as a client than to refuse to provide banking services to it.”

“The problem is not the banks, it’s the government. In this country, banks are a business. The fines imposed on banks that allegedly break the blockade are astronomical and the laws are extraterritorial.”

“A few months ago,” Pertierra recalled, “the Italian bank Intesa San Paolo had to pay Washington $3 million for violations of the blockade. And a few years ago, the Swiss bank UBS had to pay a $140-million fine simply because it exchanged old dollar bills for new, for Cuba. Another Swiss bank, Credit Suisse AG, had to pay a $536-million fine for alleged violations of the economic blockade against Cuba and Iran. Lloyds Bank of London paid an $80 million fine, etc.”

While the Cuban diplomats searched unsuccessfully for a solution, Obama stated in Miami, less than a month ago, the need to “update” United States policy toward Cuba. It is obvious that this update, increasingly more justified, has not come in time to prevent the current policy of blockade to affect ordinary citizens, probably thousands of Cubans and Americans who were packing their suitcases for the coming weeks.

More suffering for Cubans and more difficulties for US citizens to vist Cuba.
More suffering for Cubans and more difficulties for US citizens to vist Cuba.

Armando García, president of Marazul Charters, the largest Miami-Cuba  charter airline, said that at present every person living in the United States who travels to Cuba requires some sort of consular process furnished by the Cuban Interests Section.

“From processing passports for Cuban-born travelers and visas for U.S.-born travelers who are going to Cuba to visit relatives to those who travel under general or specific licenses granted by the U.S. Treasury Department, all of them need consular processing provided by the Consulate directly or through authorized travel agencies.”

“Not having the Consulate in Washington available will terminate the regular procedures and will have an immediate impact on those who are interested in traveling, yet have not documents in hand.”

This situation also contrasts with the statements made Nov. 18 by Secretary of State John Kerry at the Organization of American States, when he underscored the decision of his government to stimulate “people-to-people” exchanges.

“We are committed to this human interchange,” he said, openly explaining his diplomacy for a change in Cuba. “In the United States we believe that our people are actually our best ambassadors. They are ambassadors of our ideals, of our values, of our beliefs.”

However, without visas processed by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, those “ambassadors” are temporarily out of a job.

So as not to waste time or money, the president of Marazul recommended to would-be travelers to consult with their travel agents before the date planned for the trip.

“Those who are interested in traveling or have planned to travel soon, if they have up-to-date, valid passports (if born in Cuba) or their visas on hand or at their agency (if born elsewhere), probably will not be affected and can travel,” García said.

For decades, U.S. policy toward Cuba has not taken into account the general interests of Americans or Cubans who are anxious to embrace their relatives on the opposite shore. Washington’s traditional attitude has been to please an ever smaller and less-influential sector of the conservative Cuban émigré community in Florida.

Many hope that the imperative solutions this case deserves, for the common good, are contained in that “whole drawer full of good ideas” that Obama described at the home of Mas Santos while he raised money for his party and said that he had noticed changes in Cuba.

It would be a good way to demonstrate that his government seriously is trying to solve “the political dysfunction that exists in Washington.”


5 thoughts on “US-Cuba Trips Face New Crisis

  • There has to be another way to issue visas. Is that being worked on. Some countries have them for sale at the airport.

  • A crisis is always great fodder for change. This will inconvenience enough individuals and companies to lobby more actively for change. It’s the American way!

  • Maduro’s presidential plane was in the shop for repairs, or so he said at the time, so he was forced to borrow a plane from his friend in Havana. On the trip back from China, Maduro’s plane landed in Vancouver. The Canadian border authorities noticed that 12 of the people on the plane, all carrying Venezuelan identity papers, turned out in fact to be Cuban intelligence agents.

    Isn’t that peculiar? Why would Cuban agents be flying on a Venezuelan plane posing as Venezuelan diplomats?

    US authorities had in fact approved Maduro and his plane load of “Cubozuelans” to fly to New York where Maduro was scheduled to speak at the UN. But instead, Maduro, or his Cuban travel companions, decided to high-tail it back to Caracas. He blamed various and nefarious plots against his life forced him to cancel the speech.

    It’s more likely the twelve Cuban agents didn’t want to face US border agents when they landed in New York.

  • Remember the Maduro complaint a few months ago when his plane was initially refused access to Puerto Rican airspace on his trip from Venezuela to China. It was later learned that these requests are usually made weeks in advance and yet his government made the requests less than 24 hours prior to the flyover. Strategy sound familiar?

  • Executive summary:

    1. M&T Bank gave notice 4 months ago.
    2. Cuba failed to find another bank to take their business.
    3. Cuba waits till right before the US holiday season to close their consular services.
    4. Pro-regime hacks write a flurry of articles bemoaning the closure and blaming the embargo.

    Can you all make out the dotted lines?

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