Cuba has (again) stopped providing consular services in Washington, D.C., and at its mission to the United Nations, saying it was unable to find a substitute for Buffalo-based M&T Bank, which is closing the Cubans' accounts as of March 1.
Noel C. Clay, a State Department spokesman, answered some questions The Buffalo News had about the Cubans' problem with finding a new bank. It's a story which came to light last November and has received some media attention in other cities, such as Miami. Clay said of the Cuban government's decision to suspend consular services:
"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," Clay said. "That the Cuban Interests Section has not effectively pursued this option will result in hardship to Cuban and U.S. citizen travelers alike."
Clay did not specify what the "workable solution" was.
M&T has not commented on its banking relationship with the Cuban Interests Section or other diplomatic missions, or how it entered into that business to start with. But Clay offered this detail, without describing M&T by name:
"The decision to close its missions’ accounts was a business decision by its current bank, which we understand decided several years ago to discontinue banking diplomatic missions."
The idea that M&T had made its decision ending business with diplomatic missions as long as "several years ago" was not previously known.
"Cuba’s situation is not unique,"Clay said. "A number of banks have decided to cease providing banking services to diplomatic missions. These banks made the decision in light of multiple factors, and the U.S. government cannot compel a private bank to provide services to a diplomatic mission."
Clay said the State Department has helped the Cubans reach out to "numerous banks" -- some published reports have put the number at 50 -- and that M&T was cooperative in the effort. But it seems this is one customer no other U.S. bank is eager to claim.
-- Matt Glynn