Cuban bank assets deposited in an international group of financial institutions showed a second stunning plunge in a row, with the total nose diving from $5.65 billion on Sept. 30 to $2.8 billion at the end of March.
“Two consecutive quarters of massive bank withdrawals signal a drastic policy change in Cuba that is not the result of temporary factors,” wrote Luis F. Luis, a former chief economist at the Organization of American States who has been monitoring the deposits.
The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) regularly reports banking statistics, such as deposits by Cuban banks, from 43 major Western and emerging economies and offshore financial centers around the world.
Countries, such as Cuba, usually keep deposits in BIS member banks and other financial institutions to pay for or guarantee the purchases of goods abroad.
A BIS report on June 4 showed Cuban bank deposits in BIS member institutions had plunged from $5.65 billion on Sept. 30 to $4.1 billion on Dec. 31. The latest BIS report showed they dropped to $2.86 billion at the end of March.
“What appears to be going on is a major portfolio reallocation of Cuban international reserves and assets away from Western financial centers and possibly into banks in countries such as Venezuela and China which do not report to the BIS,” Luis wrote.
One reason for the shift may be Havana’s concern over the stability of banks in Spain, France, Germany and The Netherlands that held much of Cuba’s assets, he noted. But there might be another reason because the European Central Bank will have to support those banks in a crisis.
“A more powerful reason may be concerns regarding the legal vulnerability of having financial assets in Western banks which may be subject to forfeiture by the courts,” Luis added in a report emailed Monday to El Nuevo Herald and others.
Several Cuban exiles have won multi-million dollar judgments against Havana in U.S. courts and are now trying to collect the money. The largest was the $2.8 billion awarded last year by a Miami-Dade judge to CIA and Bay of Pigs veteran Gustavo Villoldo.
Luis noted that it makes sense for Cuba, whose main trade partners are Venezuela and China, to shift some deposits to banks in those countries “but not the kind of massive displacement that is apparently taking place.”
Cuban officials also may have drawn down the country’s deposits to settle outstanding debts, Luis speculated after the BIS report on June 4, or turned them into gold in hopes of protecting themselves from global economic swings.