News and Facts about Cuba

Cuban Scholars in U.S. Can’t Get Bank Accounts

Cuban Scholars in U.S. Can’t Get Bank Accounts
By ERNESTO LONDOÑO DECEMBER 12, 2014 10:28 AM December 12, 2014 10:28

Elaine Díaz, a well-regarded Cuban who teaches journalism at the
of Havana, this year became the first Cuban to get a Nieman
fellowship at Harvard University as an international .

Shortly after arriving in Cambridge in August, she opened an account at
a Bank of America branch. Bank clerks were lovely at the time, promptly
issuing her a debit card and credit card. This month, though, Bank of
America notified Ms. Diaz that it could not do business with her.

“Our records indicate that you are a citizen of Cuba, a country that is
the subject of comprehensive economic sanctions,” the bank wrote in a
letter. Bank officials asked her to produce documents that are readily
available to Cuban citizens who immigrate permanently to the United
States, but not those who are here on temporary visas.

Ms. Díaz is part of a growing number of Cubans invited to the United
States on professional exchanges, a trend the Obama administration has
encouraged as a mechanism to deepen understanding between societies
whose governments have been at loggerheads for decades.

For many, acclimating to the United States has meant, in part,
navigating the complex web of sanctions imposed on Cubans. Although
financial transactions related to professional exchanges are authorized,
many banks have opted to forgo business with Cubans altogether, deeming
it an unnecessary liability. Other Cuban visiting scholars have had
their bank accounts frozen, Ms. Díaz said, which has left them in a
lurch, unable to access their stipend payments.

Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington has been struggling with a
similar problem. M&T Bank dropped it as a client early this year.
Officials at the State Department offered to help, but so far the
mission has been unable to find a new bank.

In an e-mailed statement, the Treasury Department, which enforces Cuba
sanctions, said that American banks “should be permitted to engage in
transactions,” with Cubans on educational exchanges.

Given the stiff penalties the United States has imposed on banks that
have done business with Cuba, it is unsurprising that most prefer to
steer clear of Cubans in the United States. Bank of America did not
respond to an emailed query about the case sent on Thursday morning.

Ms. Díaz is trying to find a way to get paid by check, rather than
direct deposit, during the remainder of her year-long fellowship. That
will mean keeping large amounts of cash. A sympathetic acquaintance
suggested she apply for political asylum to fix the problem at hand.

“Your life will be easier,” the person said, according to an exchange
she relayed on Twitter. “Not in this life and certainly not in the next
one,” Ms. Díaz responded.

Source: Cuban Scholars in U.S. Can’t Get Bank Accounts – NYTimes.com –
http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/12/cuban-scholars-in-u-s-cant-get-bank-accounts/?_r=0

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