A Somerset health shop selling Cuban sugar and a London tobacconist dealing in Habanos cigars are among British businesses told by a bank to cut their ties with the island or move their accounts. Lloyds TSB has written to customers who have dealings with Cuba saying they will have take their accounts elsewhere, apparently in the wake of threats by the US government, which operates an embargo against Cuba. The US has said it will prosecute any businesses that have any dealings with Cuba and also have a branch in the US.
The Queenswood Natural Foods company, of Bridgwater in Somerset, started buying sugar from Cuba last year and has found it to be a popular line. Last month, the company received a letter from Lloyds TSB saying that the bank had "recently reviewed its approach to dealing with countries and entities that are subject to government and international sanctions across the globe in order to best protect its customers, its businesses, its people and its reputation". It was no longer prepared to authorise payments from the company to buy sugar from Cuba.
Lloyds TSB has told a tobacco importer trading with the island for more than a century, dealing in the famous Habanos cigars, that it must also make alternative arrangements. Spelling out the new policy, Phil Markey, relationship director at Lloyds TSB, is apologetic. "I would like to find a way to continue to make these payments for you - the decision however is down to a full risk assessment process within Lloyds TSB," he wrote in a letter at the end of May. "I must advise you to find alternative ways of making payments to your suppliers with Cuban connections."
The Cuban embassy was critical of the bank's move, saying the Bush administration, in continuing the US's "illegal, worldwide economic warfare against Cuba", had been increasingly resorting to pressure through business and finance. Businesses affected are angered by the decision, but some are reluctant to go public as they try and find other banks. "It is mystifying," said one businessman. "We are able to trade with China and Vietnam but apparently not Cuba. It seems a nonsense." Lloyds TSB declined to answer questions on its policy over Cuba and whether it had been subjected to threats of legal action in the US. "We would not disclose details of our relationships or discussions with individual customers," said a spokesman.
The Labour MP Ian Gibson, chairman of the all-party Cuba group, condemned Lloyds TSB's action. "We will be taking action against this vindictive political campaign," he said yesterday.