Cuba slaps back at Canadian bank
Diplomat upset U.S. rules apply to Scotiabank
Cuban account closed on `question of principle'
Mar. 28, 2006. 07:02 AM
Just who is in charge of Canada's bankers?
That's what Gisela Garcia Rivera wants to know, and she may not be alone.
Garcia Rivera is Cuba's ambassador in Jamaica, and last Friday she
angrily closed all her government's accounts at a branch of the Bank of
Nova Scotia in the Jamaican capital, ending a business relationship that
had lasted a decade or more.
"It's a question of principle above all," the ambassador said in a
telephone interview with the Toronto Star yesterday. "Evidently,
Scotiabank is not a reliable bank for us."
Garcia Rivera was protesting a recent decision by the bank that appeared
to put compliance with domestic U.S. laws ahead of customer service in
Jamaica — or anywhere else in the world — at least if the customer in
question happens to be a card-carrying representative of the government
"It's an injustice," she said. "They are applying an extra-territorial
law that makes no sense."
The Cuban diplomat was referring to a letter dated March 7 from
Barrington Chisholm, manager of the Scotiabank branch on Knutsford Blvd.
in Kingston, in which Chisholm said his bank is no longer willing to
handle U.S. dollar accounts for the Cubans or to carry out international
financial transactions on their behalf.
"The decision came from head office," Chisholm said in an interview
Frank Switzer, a Scotiabank spokesman in Toronto, told the Star the
company's new restrictions involving its dealings with Cuba apply not
only in Jamaica but anywhere the bank does business.
"Theoretically, this would apply to any of our branches," he said.
In his letter to the Cubans, Chisholm explained that the measure was
being taken "to comply with the dictates of the `US Patriot Act'
relating to US dollars transactions" — but he appears to have got hold
of the wrong American law.
Passed by the U.S. Congress in October 2001, immediately after the 9/11
terrorist attacks, the Patriot Act seeks to bolster America's response
to terrorist threats on many fronts, but it has little if anything to do
Switzer conceded yesterday that the 2001 anti-terrorist law was possibly
not the appropriate statute to use in restricting business dealings with
`It's an injustice. They are applying an extra-territorial law that
makes no sense.'
Gisela Garcia Rivera, Cuba's ambassador in Jamaica
He said it might have been better to refer to a raft of other U.S. laws,
going back decades, that bar or impede commerce between the United
States and the Caribbean island, ruled since 1959 by Fidel Castro.
"All that stuff," he said.
But Switzer defended what he described as an across-the-board refusal to
conduct U.S. dollar transactions or to handle U.S. dollar accounts for
Cuban government agencies.
"Any transaction involving U.S. dollars has to be settled in the U.S.,"
he said, "so you have to be mindful of U.S. law."
He said the bank's policy is directed not only at Cuba but at any
country affected by U.S. economic sanctions.
In a subsequent email, he identified those countries as Iran, North
Korea, Sudan, and Myanmar.
"Generally, Cuba and Iran have the most exhaustive restrictions," he said.
Scotiabank's determination to follow U.S. trade laws even outside U.S.
territory does not appear to be shared by other Canadian banks.
Laureano Cardoso, the Cuban consul-general in Toronto, said yesterday
the consulate does its banking with the Canadian Imperial Bank of
Commerce, mainly because the CIBC has a branch located nearby.
"We don't have rules to be with one bank or another," he said. "We
haven't had any problems."
The Cuban consulate in Montreal maintains its account with the National
Bank of Canada, he said, and also reports no recent difficulties.
Myrna Drew-Lytle, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association,
said she knows of no common position adopted by Canadian financial
institutions regarding U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
"These would be business decisions made by each bank based on their own
legal advice," she said.
Andrew Hannan, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and
International Trade in Ottawa, said the federal government is not yet
prepared to make an official comment on the dispute in Jamaica between
Scotiabank and the Cuban Embassy.
"We are aware of the situation and are looking into it," he said.