Cuba woos US banks as sanctions ease

The streets of Havana can sometimes look like a scene from the 1950s
Cuba is luring US banks to provide its citizens with financial services on American soil, as President Barack Obama continues to thaw out historically icy relations between the two nations.

Since M&T Bank Corp ended its services to Cuba in 2014, the nation has been unable to get an American bank to facilitate financial transactions for Cuban consulars and travellers in the US.

But the Obama administration is now removing Cuba from its list of sponsors of terrorism, a move which reduces the severity of financial sanctions against the island state.

As a result, a state department official this week revealed “the Cubans have found a bank and that they are very close to resolving that issue.”

This is the latest step in a shifting Cuban policy that involves loosened restrictions on travel, and follows an historic meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro last week.

US-Cuban relations have been troubled since Cuba’s 1959 communist revolution, after which the US embargoed Cuba and severed formal diplomatic relations, policies which remain active today.

This severe attitude towards Cuba has made international finance in Cuba difficult. Some foreign banks offered limited services, but this has resulted in severe fines for a handful who came into conflict with US authorities.

Last year French bank BNP Paribas was fined $8.97bn (£6.05bn) for violating a series of US sanctions.

With Cuba’s removal from the terror list, the state is opening. One candidate to work with Cuba is Citi, which specialises in cross-border and emerging market finance.

Citi’s Latin America boss Francisco Aristeguieta said at a conference earlier this month: “Our licence in Cuba is active. We have had it for 54 years, it never expired. And we are evidently evaluating our return to Cuba.”

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