Cuba consular problem in Washington may cause ripples for US diplomats in Havana

Cuban diplomats in Washington have said they will wait for a fix to their banking roadblock, but hinted that the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana could suffer the consequences if the problem continues, according to Cuba travel company employees.

The diplomats met with the employees Wednesday to brief them on the situation after they stopped all consular services last week following the M&T Bank’s decision to close the Cuban consulate’s account.

Halting the visa and passport applications created a crisis in the Cuba travel industry because the travel agencies, virtually all of them based in Miami, were preparing for the heavy travel period during the year-end holidays.

Two employees of Miami travel companies who attended the briefing, held at the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington, said the diplomats indicated they are not interested in a temporary or complicated workaround to the banking issue.

Cash will not be accepted for the visas and passports, the employees said. And there’s no agreement on allowing visitors on so-called people-to-people trips to pay for their $80 visas on arrival in Havana, instead of in Washington.

The diplomats indicated that the Cuban government will wait “a prudent” period for a solution, but that if nothing happens after that the U.S. mission in Havana may be affected, the employees said, asking for anonymity because the briefing was private.

The Cubans gave no details but noted that an agreement between Washington and Havana requires each side to provide the other with the same facilities for their diplomatic missions, the employees added.

Cuban diplomats in Washington have privately said that the money from the consular fees pays their salaries and even their mission’s light bills, hinting that with consular services halted the mission may have to shut its doors.

“If the (Cuban) Interests Section cannot pay its bills, it might have to shut down, and then the U.S. Interests Section may have to shut down,” said one of the employees. “And all that would take Cuba-US relations back 20 years.”

The U.S. and Cuban diplomatic missions are known as Interests Sections because the two countries do not have full relations. They are manned by U.S. and Cuban diplomats but are officially part of the Swiss embassies. It is not known whether the M&T decision also affected the Cuban mission to the United Nations in New York City.

More than 475,000 Cuban-Americans traveled to the island last year to visit relatives under a U.S. “family reunification” license. Another 98,000 U.S. residents went to Cuba on “people-to-people” trips, according to official Cuban figures.

State Department officials have portrayed the decision by M&T Bank, based in Buffalo to close all its consular accounts as a purely commercial decision and said that the U.S. government cannot force any bank to service any country.

Some critics of U.S. sanctions on the island have alleged that M&T shut the Cuban account because of the onerous controls required by the island’s inclusion on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. They urged that Havana be taken off the list immediately.

In turn, some sanctions supporters have argued that Cuba is doing little or nothing to resolve the banking problem because it wants to use the threat of a disruption in U.S.-Cuba travel to win its removal from the terror list.

Cuba has been on the terror list since 1982. Also on it are Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category