U.S. forces Irish bank to accept Cuba blockade

“The banks are a tool of Wall Street rule!” Is this political accusation just an abstract, educational slogan?

Not in the case of Cuba. On July 3, The Irish Independent reported that international transactions to or from Cuba would no longer be processed by the Bank of Ireland. The announcement coincides with the largest bank in France — BNP Paribas SA — agreeing to pay a negotiated settlement nearing $9 billion for violating international sanctions unilaterally imposed by the United States on third countries, including handling $1.75 billion for Cuba.  (bloomberg.com, July 9)

But even according to the governor of the Bank of France, BNP Paribas “had broken no European or French rules.” (Financial Times, June 2 )

Neither did the Bank of Ireland. So what is the problem? The “Single European Payment Area” is a financial system to facilitate and standardize the electronic flow of capital across European borders to be fully in place by Aug. 1. But SEPA is not isolated from the global flow of money.

The Bank of Ireland claims it depends on an overseas bank to process transactions under the SEPA umbrella. On Aug. 25, the Irish Times quoted a bank spokesperson’s explanation, “‘As it happens, [the bank which processes] all Sepa transactions is a leading U.S. bank who must comply with its own regulatory requirements and obligations and to avoid a possible exposure to regulatory sanctions and penalties.’ Because of this the Irish bank says it is ‘not in a position to process such transactions’” to Cuba. In other words, it faces the specter of a BNP Paribas type fine.

Since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has annually and overwhelmingly passed resolutions condemning the U.S. blockade of Cuba. All European Union representatives and Ireland supported these resolutions.

Simon McGuinness, the national coordinator of Cuba Support Group Ireland, said, “On the one hand we have the EU voting as a single bloc against the blockade and on the other they introduced financial regulations which facilitate it.” (irishtimes.com, Aug. 25)

The globalization of U.S. imperialism’s financial network relies increasingly on technology for the split-second transfer of capital to every corner of the earth. It is a shadowy weapon against sovereignty and independent development for formerly colonized areas in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The Bank of Ireland’s decision to eliminate transfers to and from Cuba is an example of how unelected proponents of imperialism in the corporate and financial boardrooms shape financial regulations to enforce their political goals — while giving the illusion of objectivity.

Wide reach of the blockade

Cuban offices in the U.S. are in the same situation as many workers — no bank account or credit card, cash only. In 2013 Buffalo, N.Y.-based M&T bank announced without explanation that accounts held by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. and the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York City would be closed. M&T extended the accounts to March 1. Unable to process normal payments for passport renewals and visa applications, Cuba suspended consular services, but resumed them in May. To date no other bank will accept the accounts despite assurances from the U.S. that the accounts are legal.

In Havana, Cuba, on May 2, at the Solidarity Conference hosted by the Cuban Central Union, the representative of the Jamaican trade unions explained that PriceSmart Jamaica Ltd. no longer accepted accounts from Cuban diplomats or workers residing in Jamaica — because PriceSmart, a wholesale shopping outlet, is a U.S. based corporation.

“The U.S. [courts] claimed jurisdiction in the BNP case because the transactions were processed in dollars.” (bloomberg.com, July 9) The BNP Paribas fine includes another punishment, banning BNP for a year from conducting some transactions in U.S. dollar transactions. This is essential to its global operations.

In June, France’s central bank implied that the probe [at BNP Paribas] may encourage companies to stop using dollars in international transactions.

This bank may have been threatening to supplant the U.S. dollar with the euro. The greatest gains for the most oppressed and marginalized people globally, however, has been achieved by dumping all capitalist currencies.

The Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America, initiated by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004, has erased illiteracy in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, established medical facilities and medical schools providing health care, and restored vision for millions who had been deprived — all without the dollar.