Cuba establishes banking relationship in US, furthering ties

WASHINGTON — Cuba has established a banking relationship in the U.S., clearing another major obstacle to the countries re-establishing diplomatic relations, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

The official refused to identify the bank, though news reports had suggested Cuba was negotiating with a Florida-based financial institution. The Cuban government will make an announcement soon, said the U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to be quoted by name and briefed reporters anonymously.

There was no immediate response from Cuba’s government.

Securing banking operations was among Cuba’s biggest demands as diplomats try to make good on the promises of Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro to restore embassies in Washington and Havana after a half-century interruption. Without an account, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington has been forced to pay bills and salaries with cash, often resorting to hauling in money from Cuba to maintain operations.

Another major hurdle to rapprochement, the U.S. designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, expires May 29.

Senior American and Cuban officials will gather again this week in Washington to canvass the remaining differences between the former Cold War enemies.

The Obama administration is trying to secure guarantees that its diplomats can travel wherever they want on the island and meet whomever they please, even if that includes dissidents and others the Cuban government accuses of trying to bring down its socialist system.

Cuba says a full “normalization” of relations must include an end to the U.S. economic embargo and the closing of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay — two matters U.S. officials say aren’t on their immediate agenda. Obama has significantly loosened the embargo in recent months, but only Congress has the power to revoke it entirely.

Another issue to surface recently is the U.S. training of Cuban journalists, which Castro recently called an “illegal” infringement on Cuba’s sovereignty.

The senior State Department official stressed that the U.S. runs democracy programs in “restrictive environments” around the world, and that those in Cuba are designed to best serve the Cuban people. The training of journalists is done both inside and outside of the country by journalism professors and others experienced in the field.

The official, however, left open the idea of such programs changing in future as Cuba further opens up.

The official provided no date for an expected completion of negotiations and announcement on restoring embassies.

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