Traveling between Cuba and the United States has been difficult for some time, but it may just become even harder.
Earlier this week, Cuba indefinitely suspended its consular services across the United States, blaming America's long-standing trade embargo for the shutdown. The suspension will affect many, both Cubans and Americans, who need documents approved by Cuban consular officials before takeoff.
Cuba claims it has been unable to find a replacement for New York’s M&T bank, which announced last July it will stop serving the Cuba mission's banking needs.
But Dr. Jose Azel, a Cuban exile and senior scholar at the University of Miami, suspects the suspension is a political issue, rather than a practical one.
"There's no reason why Cuba should not be able to find a bank. There's no impediment coming from the US government," Azel says.
Azel believes Cuba is using M&T's decision to stop doing business with any diplomatic mission — not just Cuba’s — as “an excuse.” He thinks it is a political maneuver to see how much pressure the Cuban-American community can put on the US government to lift travel restrictions to Cuba.
First, Azel points out that the consular suspension is coming just before the heavy traffic of the holiday season begins. Second, he says Cuba’s real problem isn’t with economic sanctions at all.
“The United States is the fourth largest trading partner to Cuba, and the largest supplier of food items to Cuba. So, not withstanding economic sanctions, there is a lot of trade that is going on," he says. "I think the unimpeded travel of US citizens to Cuba — that would be, I would guess, Cuba’s main goal.”
Officially however, the United States and Cuba are both claiming that the issue is practical, not political.