US eases Cuba restrictions before Obama historic visit

The US on Tuesday announced further easing of trade and travel sanctions against Cuba days ahead of Barack Obama's historic visit to the communist-ruled nation, the first by a US President in nearly 90 years.

PTI| Updated: Mar 15, 2016, 22:29 PM IST

Washington: The US on Tuesday announced further easing of trade and travel sanctions against Cuba days ahead of Barack Obama's historic visit to the communist-ruled nation, the first by a US President in nearly 90 years.

The measures announced makes it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba for educational and business purposes, expands the Caribbean country's access to US financial institutions and the US dollar, and expands the ability for Cubans living in the US to earn a salary.

These changes, coupled with the arrangement recently announced by Departments of State and Transportation allowing up to 110 non-stop flights daily between the US and Cuba, will significantly increase the ability of American citizens to travel to Cuba, said the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

"The goal of the president's policy with Cuba is simple: to improve the lives of Cubans and to advance the interests of the United States," he said.

Obama fundamentally believes that the best way to achieve that goal is by facilitating more interaction between the Cuban and American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities, and through more access to information, he said.

For more than five decades, Americans were barred from traveling, or investing in the communist-ruled nation, barely 145 kilometers south of Florida, after US imposed a trade embargo on the island-nation in the 1960's.

Obama, who flies to Cuba on Sunday ahead of an official March 21-22 visit, will be the first US president to visit the country after 88 years.

The last and the only US president to visit Cuba while in office was Calvin Coolidge, who traveled there in January 1928. Former President Jimmy Carter visited in March 2011.

Earnest added that purposeful changes like those announced today will continue to empower the Cuban people and advance our enduring objectives of supporting human rights, improving the lives of the Cuban people, and promoting closer ties between our peoples. 

As per the new changes, individuals will be authorised to travel to Cuba for individual people-to-people educational travel, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people's independence from Cuban authorities and that will result in a meaningful interaction between the traveller and individuals in Cuba.

Previously, the general license authorising educational travel required such trips to take place under the auspices of an organisation that was subject to US jurisdiction and required all travellers to be accompanied by a representative of the sponsoring organisation.

"Today's steps build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial freedoms, and chart a new course in US-Cuba relations," said Treasury Secretary Jacob J Lew.

"Today we are building on this progress by facilitating travel for additional Americans looking to engage with Cubans; allowing Cuban citizens to earn a salary in the US; and expanding access to the US financial system as well as trade and commercial opportunities," he said.

"Today's amendments build upon President Obama's historic actions to improve our country's relationship with Cuba and its people. These steps not only expand opportunities for economic engagement between the Cuban people and the American business community, but will also improve the lives of millions of Cuba's citizens," said US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.