Washington: The US Treasury on Thursday eased restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba, five months after President Barack Obama announced the measures in a bid to improve ties with the communist island.
The changes to Treasury rules, which take effect immediately, focus on visits by Cubans living in the United States to the island, remittances by Cuban-Americans to their relatives, and telecommunications.
The 47-year-old US economic embargo on Cuba however remains.
The goal is to "promote greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba" and also to "increase the flow of remittances and information to the Cuban people," the Treasury said.
"Travellers may visit `close relatives` (including, for example, aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins) who are nationals of Cuba," the statement said, adding that there was no limit on the duration or frequency of the visits.
There is also no limit on the amount of remittances Cuban-Americans can send to their "close relatives" on the island, though restrictions remain on sending money to "prohibited" officials in the Cuban government and members of the Communist Party.
US-based travellers however are limited to spending USD 179 a day on their visit to Cuban relatives.
The move also opens a wide array of telecommunications links to the island, after decades of antipathy between Washington and Havana.
It allows US telecommunications network providers to link to Cuba with fibre-optic cables and satellite technology, permits US wireless telephone providers to enter roaming service agreements with Cuban firms, and allows US satellite broadcasts to the island.
An estimated 1.5 million US residents have relatives in Cuba and the question of how to deal with the government -- headed by Raul Castro after decades of rule by his brother, Fidel -- has long been an emotional one for the politically powerful exile community.
The Treasury Department also announced a new general license that authorises "travel-related transactions incident to agricultural and medical sales."
US law permits states to sell agricultural, medical and information technology products on a cash basis to Cuba. Since 2000, such sales have totalled more than USD 3 billion.
In late August, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson travelled to Cuba on a trade mission aimed at developing agricultural and cultural ties with the Caribbean island.
Other US governors have travelled to the island on similar missions.
When it first announced the planned changes in April, the White House said the move was intended to encourage expanding democratic and political rights in Cuba, and called on Havana to respond in kind to help ease decades of fierce antipathy.
Among other things, the White House called on Cuba to reduce charges it levies on money transfers to family members.