The Obama administration Friday will begin carrying out the first major initiative in its policy to normalize relations with Cuba, most significantly, making it easier for Americans to travel to the island.
Among the new U.S. regulations: American citizens can bring home small amounts of Cuban cigars.
Under new Treasury and Commerce Department regulations announced Thursday to take effect on Friday, the U.S. government will loosen decades-old restrictions on travel, trade, investment and remittances.
“These changes will have a direct impact in further engaging and empowering the Cuban people, promoting positive change for Cuba’s citizens,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement.
In late December, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro unveiled a deal representing a broad range of diplomatic and regulatory measures in the most dramatic change in policy between the two countries since the 1961 embargo was imposed. Only Congress can end the five-decade embargo.
Cuban-American lawmakers such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey have been among the vocal opponents of the new policy, saying that it empowers the Castro regime.
The Obama administration is choosing to act on those changes three days after it confirmed the release of 53 political prisoners Cuba had promised to free.
Below are some specifics of the new regulations:
- General tourist travel is still prohibited, but Americans authorized to visit Cuba for any of a dozen specific reasons can do so without first obtaining a special license from the government. The 12 categories of acceptable travel include family visits, official visits, journalistic, professional, educational and religious activities, and public performances.
- Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba can use credit cards and spend money in the country, and are able to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products.
- Americans can send more money to Cubans, up to $2,000 every three months instead of the $500 currently permitted.
- U.S. citizens can bring home small amounts of Cuban cigars.
- U.S. companies will be able to export cell phones, televisions, memory and recording devices, computers and software to Cuba. Cuba is known to have poor Internet and telecommunications infrastructure.