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12/14/13 - Travel Weekly - Cuba operators hopeful visa services will resume shortly 

U.S. companies licensed to offer travel to Cuba are confident that the
recent suspension of consular services by the Cuban government's diplomatic
mission in Washington will be resolved within days.

The Cuban Interests Section (CIS) announced Nov. 26 that it had stopped
processing applications for passports or visas for travel to Cuba, citing a
decision by its bank, M&T Bank, to cease providing financial services to
foreign diplomatic missions, including Cuba's.

The bank had advised the CIS of its decision on July 12. Since that time,
Cuba has been trying to find a new bank to service its accounts in the U.S.

In a statement, the CIS blamed the half-century-old U.S. economic and trade
embargo against Cuba for its inability to find another bank.

"Due to the existing restrictions stemming from the policy of economic,
commercial and financial blockade by the North American government against
Cuba, it has been impossible to find a U.S. bank or any other bank based in
the U.S. willing to take over the bank accounts of Cuban diplomatic
missions," the statement said.

The decision comes at the approach of the peak holiday season for travel to
Cuba, but the suspension will have little effect in the near term on
upcoming departures of people-to-people programs, according to Tom Popper,
president of Insight Cuba.

"Our December departures are going as scheduled. Our travelers already have
secured their visas. I know that all the powers that be, from the Office of
Foreign Assets Control to the Department of State, the charter operators
that handle the arrangements for Cuba flights and the Cuban Interests
Section are working together to come up with a solution," Popper said.

Friendly Planet's departures through early January also are unaffected
because travelers have their visas.

"My gut feeling is that this will be resolved very soon," said Peggy
Fleming, president. "We all will come to an arrangement with some entity.
It will probably add an extra layer of bureaucracy, but it is in Cuba's
interests as well as ours to get this worked out."

Visas for International Expeditions' Cuba clients have been procured for
departures through much of January, according to Steve Cox, executive

"We're confident this banking issue will be resolved," he said.

Abercrombie & Kent is also in the clear for the short term. "Our clients
are required to submit their documentation 90 days in advance, so we are
covered for now," an official said.

Arthur Berman, vice president of Latour, a subsidiary of IsramWorld, said
the suspension "does not affect our passengers or our commitment to our
Cuban people-to-people programs. Our tourist cards are going to be issued
in Havana until such time as the office in Washington once again is issuing
visas/tourist cards."

As Popper described it, "This situation is a clerical/administrative
problem. The M&T Bank doesn't want this business any more. They are closing
the department that handles consular services because of the complexity and
profusion of U.S. laws and regulations that require detailed reporting, and
not just in the case of Cuba."

People-to-people travel requires a visa, also called a tourist card; land
travelers cannot board a flight to Cuba without it.

In the case of travelers on a licensed, authorized people-to-people
program, that document has been, until now, processed by the CIS and given
to travelers before they board the charter flight to Havana.

Cost for the tourist card was approximately $35 plus another $30 in
processing and administrative fees.

Original Source / Fuente Original:


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