By Khaila Gentle
BELIZE CITY, Wed. June 15, 2022
At the first official press conference held by the Prime Minister since his being elected into office in November 2020, Hon. John Briceño spoke on several foreign affairs issues concerning the country and the region, including correspondent banking. The derisking carried out by US banks, which have ended their relationships with several banks in the region in order to avoid possible sanctions due to strict banking regulations, have caused numerous challenges for small CARICOM countries, and was a topic that was brought up during a side meeting at the IX Summit of the Americas, where the Prime Minister and other CARICOM Heads of State were, once again, able to meet with US congresswoman Maxine Waters.
During that meeting, a discussion was held on how the region could restore correspondent banking relationships with the US.
“In the meeting with Maxine Waters, what she was suggesting is to hold a congressional committee meeting and to invite CARICOM leaders to go and to talk about it, and she’s hoping that eventually, she could have a carve-out for the Caribbean to see how we can have these banks provide services to the region,” he stated.
“Because as we pointed out that there is a more responsibility from the banks that you can’t just cherry-pick your customers, you need to provide services to everyone,” he added.
The Prime Minister noted that getting the US to address the issue has, in the past, been frustrating since, before now, neither the banks nor Congress have been willing to cooperate.
“As I mentioned at our meeting, we feel like a ping-pong ball, because they are saying that it is not them, it is the banks, and the banks are saying that it is not them, it is Congress and it seems that no one is prepared to make a definitive decision in trying to resolve this problem,” said the Prime Minister.
Foreign Minister Hon. Eamon Courtenay also spoke on the matter, and he described the double standard that currently exists in the world of banking—where the rich countries that condemn smaller nations for money laundering and terrorism are never condemned themselves—as “a bit difficult to stomach.”
“We find it curious that the Caribbean, let’s speak about the Caribbean, is being pressured on money laundering and anti-terrorism. But it was curious that once the sanctions were announced against Russia, the billions of dollars that they say is the proceeds of money laundering were found in London, in New York, in Geneva,” said Minister Courtenay.
In April of this year, at the Caribbean Financial Access Roundtable Meetings held in Bridgetown, Barbados, Prime Minister Mia Mottley expressed similar sentiments, pointing out that while the countries routinely placed on anti-money laundering lists receive relatively little international financing of any sort, those that have never and will never be listed are where most money laundering, regrettably, takes place. That meeting was where Prime Ministers Mottley and Briceño were first able to meet with Congresswoman Waters.
Over the years, Belize has lost about 85% of its previously established correspondent banking relations.