SPECIAL REPORT-Caribbean countries entangled by U.S. financial crackdown
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By Yeganeh Torbati
BELIZE CITY, Belize, July 12 (Reuters) - Burdened by chronic back pain, Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow avoids traveling abroad, his colleagues say. But in January, he flew to Washington and visited one government agency after another on a singular mission: reconnecting his country to the U.S. financial system.
A U.S.-educated lawyer, Barrow made his case before agencies with chief oversight of American banks, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the U.S. Treasury's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
His Belizean delegation described how their country had been shunned over the last year by large, reputable American banks, a trend that threatens its tiny economy.
As banks scrub their books of potentially risky businesses amid a tightening regulatory noose, major U.S. financial institutions have ended relationships with regional banks across the Caribbean in the last four years, Caribbean officials and bank executives say.
This so-called "de-risking" or "de-banking," in which banks pull out of certain lines of business and even parts of the world, has intensified. Enhanced scrutiny on financial fraud and new regulations to stem money laundering and terror finance are all at play.
Yet the de-risking movement has triggered a collision of interests: As banks tighten controls, small, poor countries most dependent on trade say they're being unfairly cut off from global finance, a case made by Barrow.
"The regulators all agreed that absent a solution, our economies, our societies would go belly up," he recounted in a speech in February. But in the end, his group left Washington with little more than "tea and sympathy." Continuación...