http://www.thestar.com | OAKLAND ROSS
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 of Cuba.
“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 yesterday.
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 with Cuba.
Switzer conceded yesterday that the 2001 anti-terrorist law was possibly not the appropriate statute to use in restricting business dealings with the island.