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The Obama administration on Friday eased restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba in what it says is an effort to encourage more contact between nationals of both countries.
“The President has directed that changes be made to regulations and policies governing purposeful travel, non-family remittances and US airports supporting licensed charter flights to and from Cuba,” the White House said in a statement.
“These measures will increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities.
“The President believes these actions, combined with the continuation of the embargo, are important steps in reaching the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all its citizens,” the statement said.
The administration said these steps build on Obama’s April 2009 actions in helping to reunite “divided Cuban families; to facilitate greater telecommunications with the Cuban people; and to increase humanitarian flows to Cuba”.
The White House said the directed changes will be enacted through modifications to existing Cuban Assets Control and Customs and Border Protection regulations and policies and will take effect upon publication of modified regulations in the Federal Register within two weeks.
To enhance contact with the Cuban people and support civil society through “purposeful travel,” including religious, cultural, and educational travel, the President has directed that regulations and policies be modified to allow religious organizations to sponsor religious travel to Cuba under a general license.
The regulations and policies would also facilitate educational exchanges by allowing accredited institutions of higher education to sponsor travel to Cuba for course work for academic credit under a general license and allow students to participate through academic institutions other than their own.
In addition, the regulations would, among other things, restore specific licensing of educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program under the auspices of an organization that sponsors and organizes people-to-people programs, the White House said.
To help expand the economic independence of the Cuban people and to support a “more vibrant Cuban civil society,” the President has directed the regulations governing non-family remittances be modified to restore a general license category for any US person to send remittances, up to US$500 per quarter, to non-family members in Cuba to support.
Obama said the remittances cannot be provided to senior Cuban government officials or senior members of the Cuban Communist Party.
“The modifications will not change the designation of airports in Cuba that are eligible to send or receive licensed charter flights to and from the United States,” the statement said.
The administration said it had expected to announce the measures months ago, but they were delayed because of concerns about their possible impact on the 2010 midterm elections.
The announcement also comes as the Cuban government is carrying out a sweeping economic overhaul, including layoffs of hundreds of thousands of state workers.