Planning on heading to Cuba over the holidays? Good luck

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. The US embargo against Cuba restricts travel by Americans to the communist-run island. The treasury department has to approve it basically, but the Obama administration is trying to make it easier for Cuban-Americans to go see their families on the island. Instead, this week things got more complicated. Cuba announced a shutdown of most of its consular services in the US. Havana's diplomatic mission in Washington, the Cuban Intersection, said it's because of a banking problem. The bank that was handling its finances in the US decided to stop doing that and the Cubans blame the embargo for not being able to find another bank willing to step in. But Jose Azel thinks that's not the whole story. He's a Cuban exile and a senior scholar at the University of Miami.

Jose Azel: This has got to be a political issue. There's no reason why Cuba should not be able to find a bank. There's no impediment coming from the US government.

Werman: Well what has M&T Bank said why it's not gonna do business with the Cuban Intersection anymore?

Azel: The statement that I read is they're not gonna do business with any of the diplomatic missions. You know, that might be just a private decision of the bank.

Werman: So we're starting down the barrel of the holiday season now. A lot of Cuban expats want to visit home. Is this gonna hang up those plans?

Azel: Well, this is going to really not sit well with the Cuban American community that is traveling to Cuba and Cuba maybe is trying to test the strength of that segment of the Cuban American community.

Werman: Test them in what way? To see...

Azel: To see how much pressure they can put on the US government to lift sanctions.

Werman: And do you think it might work?

Azel: It is a little bit complicated because in order to completely lift the economics sanctions, it has to be approved by Congress, and I don't think that's in the cards. You know, economic sanctions as a broader explanation is not that important to Cuba. You know, 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's a tremendous amount of trade that is going on. I think the unimpeded travel by US citizens to Cuba, that is truly what Cuba would like to see because that's easy for an exchange. So the United States could simply lift that portion and facilitate more open travel by Americans. That would be, I would guess, Cuba's main goal.

Werman: Cuban exile Jose Azel, a senior scholar at the University of Miami. Thanks a lot.

Azel: Thank you, Marco. Have a good day.