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Cuba temporarily resumes consular services in U.S.

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Published:   |   Updated: December 9, 2013 at 09:42 PM

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport will celebrate its 11th weekly flight to Cuba on Tuesday without the cloud of uncertainty that hung over the future of flights to the Communist island nation.

Cuba announced Monday morning it is temporarily resuming services at the Cuban Interests Section — its diplomatic missions in the United States — through early 2014 after receiving an extension from the private bank that handles its financial transactions in the country.

Cuba closed the section Nov. 26 after the bank announced it was pulling out of the business of serving foreign delegations. Services provided by the Cuban Interests Section include the visas and licenses necessary for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.

Tampa has the third-largest Cuban population in the United States and a long history of cultural ties with the island nation, making it a popular destination for Tampa residents — Cuban and non-Cuban.

In 2012, Tampa accounted for 44,711 of the half-million people traveling between the U.S. and Cuba. TIA projects that number will rise this year to 51,594, an increase of 15 percent.

The airport celebrated the addition of a 10th weekly flight last Tuesday and will celebrate an 11th on this Tuesday.

“This is welcome news,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. “A prolonged suspension of Cuban consular services could have impacted many families in Florida and put a damper on the expansion of international flights that have created jobs locally over the past few years.”

Buffalo-based M&T Bank will continue to process the Cuban Interests Section’s banking through March 1 and accept deposits through Feb. 17.

“This is a temporary solution,” said Castor, “but provides the Cuban Interests Section more time to seek a financial institution to handle its diplomatic transactions.”

Travel agencies dealing in trips to Cuba said the suspension of services would not have slowed holiday travel. The paperwork was long ago arranged for these trips. It is travel in January and beyond that could have suffered.

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

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