The U.S. State Department says it came up with a “workable solution” to the banking dilemma that prompted Cuba to suspend its consular services in the United States but Cuba decided not to pursue it.
But it’s hard to say whether the solution was truly workable. Neither the State Department nor Cuba will disclose what it was. The U.S. government has been working with the Cuban Interests Section and the Cuban mission to the United Nations since July to try to find a bank or banks that would provide services after their former bank, Buffalo-based M&T, informed them it was getting out of the business of handling accounts for foreign missions.
Last Friday was the deadline that M&T gave the Cuban missions for accepting deposits of fees for visas, processing passports for Cuban citizens, authenticating documents and other consular services. That meant, said the Cuban Interests Section, that it was forced to suspend consular services, except for humanitarian cases, until it found a replacement for M&T.
“We are disappointed in this action, given that we had helped the mission identify a workable solution to its consular fee processing needs with ample time for its implementation,’’ said a State Department spokesperson. “That the Cuban Interests Section has not effectively pursued this option will result in hardship to Cuban and U.S. citizen travelers alike.” Asked for details on the solution, a State Department employee responded, “Since these were confidential communications, this is a question best asked of the Cuban missions.”
But the Cuban Interests Section didn’t respond to an email or phone call seeking comment. M&T has informed the Cuban missions that their accounts will be closed on March 1. The State Department said while the primary responsibility to find a new bank lies with the Cuban missions, in an effort to help, it has been in touch with more than 50 financial institutions since last summer and that M&T also had tried to help the Cuban missions identify a new bank or banks.
“We encourage the Cuban government to consider all available options, including potential solutions we have repeatedly discussed with them, to address their missions’ needs and to restore full consular services,” said a State Department employee.
The Cuban Interests Section also shut down its consular services on Nov. 26 after reaching a previous M&T deadline without finding a replacement bank, but less than two weeks later the consular section was back in service after M&T offered an extension.