U.S. Banks Hesitant to Engage With Cuban Banks

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By Stephen Joyce

Sept. 9 — Some U.S. financial firms refuse to engage in legal transactions with Cuban entities, despite recent federal policy changes, in part because of regulatory uncertainty and the novelty of the policy changes, Mark Feierstein, a senior Obama administration official, said.

“We frankly still see some hesitancy on the part of U.S. international banks to process legal transactions,” Feierstein, special assistant to the president at the National Security Council, said at a Sept. 9 U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting in New York.

Irma Martinez Castrillon, Central Bank of Cuba first vice president, said regulatory changes are moving in the right direction. However, Cuban and U.S. banks still can't easily engage in transactions, despite changes since President Barack Obama announced in December 2014 plans to normalize Cuba-U.S. relations, she said.

U.S. banks continue to be concerned about being sanctioned by the U.S. government if they engage even in legal transactions with Cuban banks, she said.

The Obama administration's overarching goal in its policies toward Cuba is “to continue to advance, consolidate and make irreversible the normalization process with Cuba,” Feierstein said. He labeled as “failed policies” those rules that were in place before the president's 2014 changes.

Deficiencies Cited

While some progress has been made in normalizing financial transactions between the U.S. and Cuba, “unfortunate events” continue, Jodi Hanson Bond, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president, Americas, said at the meeting.

U.S. banks have frozen accounts when the word “Cuba” has appeared in the account description, consulates have had their financial services disrupted due to regulatory uncertainty, checking accounts have been closed when account holders traveled to Cuba legally and corporate accounts have been blocked from facilitating legitimate business with authorized Cuban entities, Bond said.

The private sector has a role to play in Cuba's economic development, John Rice, General Electric Co. vice chairman, said at the meeting. Banks as well as U.S. companies have to be willing to invest and devote other resources to assist Cuba's economy in developing adequately.

“Financing is key. Without it, we go nowhere,” Rice said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Joyce in New York at sjoyce@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

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