Cuba temporarily resumes consular services in US

HAVANA (AP) - Cuba said on Monday it is resuming consular services at its diplomatic missions in the United States after receiving an extension from a private bank that handles its financial transactions in the country.

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington said in a statement it was notified that M&T Bank will continue to process its banking through March 1, 2014, and accept deposits through Feb 17.

So the Interests Section and Cuba's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York will immediately resume services such as visa and passport processing.

"The Cuban Interests Section regrets the inconveniences caused to Cuban and American citizens by the suspension ... and will provide timely information on the evolution of this matter," the statement said.

It's a temporary stopgap, however. Cuba is only guaranteeing consular services through the Feb 17 date given by the bank for accepting deposits.

Cuba announced on Nov 26 that it was halting consular services because the bank was ending its relationship with its diplomatic missions.

It blamed the 51-year-old US embargo, which outlaws most banking with Cuba and imposes strict compliance rules on the few transactions that are allowed.

The US State Department has said the private bank made an independent business decision to sever its relationship with the Cuban missions, and it did not have the power to order any institution to handle Cuba's accounts. It added that it was working with Cuba to find a solution.

The suspension threatened to make life difficult for the hundreds of thousands of US travellers who visit the island each year, mostly Cuban-Americans coming to see family back home but also non-Cuban Americans on legal academic, religious and cultural exchanges.

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