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Cuba suspends consular services in U.S.

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
updated 4:41 PM EST, Wed November 27, 2013
Tourists take a ride along the coast in Havana, which may become even harder for U.S. citizens and Cuban expats to reach after Cuba's government suspended all consular services to the United States on Tuesday.
Tourists take a ride along the coast in Havana, which may become even harder for U.S. citizens and Cuban expats to reach after Cuba's government suspended all consular services to the United States on Tuesday.
  • NEW: State Department says it will try to assist Cuba
  • Cuba says it no longer has bank in U.S. to handle consular matters
  • This could affect travel transactions for visitors, citizens
  • Relatives in U.S. have been able to visit Cuba

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Already difficult, traveling to Cuba from the United States may soon be getting a lot harder.

The Cuban government said Tuesday it has suspended all consular services it provides in the United States because it cannot find a U.S. bank willing to take its business.

The move could severely impact Cuban-Americans' ability to visit family on the island.

The U.S. State Department said Wednesday it will try to assist Cuba's bid for a solution.

Cubans who spend more than two years away from the island are required by the Cuban government to apply for permission to return, even for a short visit.

While the U.S. economic embargo prevents commercial transaction with the island, some exceptions are allowed such as the Cuban diplomatic mission or Interests Section in Washington and the U.S. equivalent in Havana.

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According to a Cuban government statement, M&T Bank in July said it would no longer service Cuban banking needs in the United States.

"This act will provoke grave problems with the normal operations of the Interests Section and Permanent Mission at the United Nations," the Cuban government said in a statement released Tuesday.

M&T Bank, based in Buffalo, New York, did not immediately respond to an inquiry from CNN regarding the matter. The State Department said it was a "business decision."

"We cannot force a private bank to provide services to a diplomatic mission," the State Department said.

The Cuban government said it has been unable to find another bank willing to handle its financial transactions in the United States. The government said it needs a bank in the United States to handle transactions, including issuing documents for travel.

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The statement said everything but humanitarian services would be halted, meaning that direct travel between the United States and Cuba could be severely impacted.

It's unclear when travel between the two countries will be affected. The process to journey to and from Cuba already was a lengthy and complicated process.

According to Cuban government statistics, nearly 100,000 U.S. citizens traveled to Cuba last year, despite the decades-old U.S. travel ban.

The Obama administration in 2009 allowed Cubans with family on the island to make unlimited trips to the island and permitted U.S. citizens engaging in "people-to-people" travel with a licensed tour guide to visit the island.

"The [Interests] Section particularly regrets the affect this situation will have on Cuban citizens and Americans," the Cuban statement said. "It will have negative consequences on family visits, exchanges of an academic, cultural, educational, scientific and sporting nature between Cuba and the US."

The State Department said, "The U.S. government seeks to help foreign missions in the United States that have been unable to obtain banking services, while ensuring the continued security of the U.S. financial system including through appropriate regulatory oversight."

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