Women flagged by Treasury Department after writing ‘Cuba’ on check

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RIVERDALE, the Bronx — With all the talk about the United States normalizing relations with Cuba, Claire Martin was excited to see an article in the New York Times Travel section about Cuba Cruise, a Canadian company, offering Americans week long trips to Cuba.

Claire, 89, from Riverdale, contacted her friend and traveling companion Nancy Edelstein, who was anxious to go with her on the cruise.

Nancy sent in the $500 deposit for the two women.

Claire, who banks electronically with Chase, sent a check to Nancy for half the deposit, $250 dollars. She filled in Nancy’s name and address and wrote in "Cuba" in the memo section as a reminder of what the check was for. She had no idea the problems that would cause.

The day after sending the check, Claire got a call from Chase asking her why the word Cuba was on the check. Claire explained that it was a reimbursement for a deposit on an upcoming trip.

She was told that referencing Cuba might be associated with the Cuba Sanction and appears on a designated block list by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

A Chase spokesperson told Claire “the funds are in a JP Morgan Chase blocked account… they cannot release it because it’s been impounded by the Federal Government.”

Claire and Nancy have to apply for a Treasury Department license to prove they qualify for the Cuba trip.

Even though the United States  is loosening relations with Cuba, American’s cannot travel there unless they are part of one of 12 categories of authorized activities.

This is the list of those categories: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.

Claire says she never expected to be put through such an ordeal just to qualify for the cruise to Cuba. She never thought writing the word "Cuba" in a memo line on a check would trigger a red flag.

"I hate to use the reference big brother is watching,” she said. “But I think it’s very unfair.”