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While ordinary tourism is still prohibited, new rules announced Thursday open up Cuba to greater American travel. (Photo: Scott Loftesness/flickr/cc)

New Rules Make it Easier to Trade With, Travel to Cuba

The loosened restrictions are the next step in President Barack Obama's goal of re-establishing diplomatic relations with the Cuban government

Deirdre Fulton

As of Friday, Americans will be able to take home up to $100 in alcohol and tobacco—including long-embargoed Cuban cigars—from Cuba, as part of the Obama administration's loosening of restrictions on American trade with and travel to the communist-ruled island. 

The U.S. Departments of the Treasury and Commerce on Thursday laid out the new rules, which go into effect January 16. The announcement came on the heels of the release, earlier this week, of 53 Cuban political prisoners as part of the historic U.S.-Cuba rapprochement announced last month. 

According to Reuters:

The 54-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba will remain in place—only Congress can lift it.

But the package of rules issued by the Treasury and Commerce Departments, which come into effect on Friday, will allow U.S. exports of telecommunications, agricultural and construction equipment, permit expanded travel by Americans to the island and open banking relations.

It was the first tangible U.S. step to implement the economic changes Obama pledged on Dec. 17 when he and Cuban President Raul Castro announced plans to restore diplomatic relations between the old Cold War foes.

The easing of sanctions will allow Americans to travel to Cuba for any of a dozen specific reasons, including family visits, education and religion, without first obtaining a special license from the U.S. government as was previously the case. Travelers will be able to bring home up to $400 in Cuban goods, though alcohol and tobacco products may account for just $100 of that. Ordinary tourism to the island is still prohibited.

The measures also give Americans permission to use credit cards in Cuba and make it easier for U.S. companies to export mobile phone devices and software as well as to provide Internet services. U.S. airlines will be permitted to expand flights to the Caribbean island. And according to the Treasury Department: "Certain micro-financing projects and entrepreneurial and business training, such as for private business and agricultural operations, will be authorized."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the "changes will immediately enable the American people to provide more resources to empower the Cuban population to become less dependent upon the state-driven economy, and help facilitate our growing relationship with the Cuban people."

The U.S. and Cuba are scheduled to hold migration talks in Havana next week, the next step in the normalization process announced last month. Leading the American delegation is Roberta Jacobson, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America. Her visit marks the highest-level trip to Cuba by a U.S. official since 1980.

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