MasterCard to Lift Transaction Block on U.S. Cards in Cuba

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MasterCard Inc. said it will lift a block on U.S. bank-card transactions in Cuba after receiving guidance from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The change takes effect March 1, according to a bulletin the Purchase, New York-based company sent to banks and other customers and obtained by Bloomberg News. Seth Eisen, a MasterCard spokesman, confirmed the bulletin’s contents.

President Barack Obama announced last month that the U.S. would relax restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba, which would include allowing Americans to use their credit cards in the country. MasterCard and Visa Inc. cards issued by banks outside the U.S. are already accepted in the Caribbean nation.

North Korea will continue to be blocked by MasterCard for transactions involving U.S. bank cards, while Iran, Syria and Sudan will be blocked for cards issued anywhere in the world, the company said.

Larger rival Visa Inc. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Treasury Department this month revised regulations tied to U.S. sanctions on Cuba, which included allowing U.S. financial firms to open accounts at Cuban banks to handle transactions, according to a Jan. 15 statement. U.S. companies also are authorized to enroll merchants and process credit- and debit-card transactions for travel-related and other expenses, the department said.

‘Deep’ Divisions

MasterCard’s announcement follows two days of talks between U.S. and Cuban officials over restoring diplomatic ties, migration policies and human rights in Havana. While both sides praised the negotiations, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson said “deep” divisions remain over human rights policy.

Restoring diplomatic ties doesn’t mean the U.S. embargo on the island would end. While Obama eased some travel and trade restrictions after his Dec. 17 announcement, lifting the embargo would require congressional approval.

U.S.-Cuba negotiations will resume again as early as next month in Washington, according to two officials who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to discuss the talks publicly.

(An earlier version of this story corrected the countries still blocked by MasterCard in fourth paragraph.)

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