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Cuba halts consular services in the U.S.

By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
updated 6:28 PM EST, Fri February 14, 2014

(CNN) -- Cuba halted consular services in the United States on Friday because the American bank it was working with is severing their relationship, the Cuban Interests Section said.

M&T Bank informed the Interests Section last year it was getting out of the business of providing banking services for diplomatic missions, but agreed to accept Cuban deposits through February 17.

Going forward, consular assistance will "only be provided for humanitarian cases," the Interests Section said in a statement.

"The Section regrets any inconvenience this situation may cause to Cuban and U.S. citizens who may require the services of our offices, with the negative impact on family visits, academic, cultural, educational, scientific, sports and other types of exchanges between Cuba and the United States," its statement said.

U.S. diplomats in Havana said consular services for Cubans wishing to travel to the United States have not been affected by the dispute.

Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said the agency has been "actively working" with the Cubans to identify a new bank, and has reached out to more than 50.

Harf said that several banks may currently be exploring the possibility of providing services, but that it was unclear whether it could be worked out by March 1, when the accounts will be closed.

"We will continue to work with the Cuban mission as they seek to identify a long term solution," Harf said. "We seek to help foreign missions that are otherwise unable to obtain banking services, because we think obviously, that it's good to help people who want to be represented here in the states."

Cuba and the United States do not have formal ties. Strict travel restrictions under a U.S. trade embargo imposed five decades ago prohibit Americans from traveling to Cuba without government permission.

About 400,000 people traveled from the United States to Cuba last year, according to the Cuban government.

The majority were Cuban-Americans who traveled to Cuba after President Barack Obama loosened travel restrictions to allow more 'people-to-people' exchanges and to permit Cuban-Americans to travel home to the communist-ruled island 90 miles from Florida.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.

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