Americans will now be allowed unlimited visits and money transfers to family in the communist country
Daniel Nasaw in Washington guardian.co.uk, Monday 13 April 2009 18.35 BST Article history
Barack Obama will today ease travel and remittance restrictions to Cuba, in a long-awaited move to thaw relations with the island nation.
The action signals a change in direction after decades of strict sanctions imposed the communist country, which lies just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, and fulfils a promise Obama made during the campaign. Under the new rules, Americans will be allowed unlimited visits and money transfers to family in Cuba. A formal announcement is expected this afternoon at the daily press briefing.
White House officials told media the policy change is intended to make Cubans less dependent on the Castro regime, and to foster democracy on the island by giving Cubans more contact with Americans. About 1.5 million Americans have relatives in Cuba.
Currently, family visits to Cuba are limited to one every three years. The US also limits the amount of money Americans may spend in Cuba to $50 per day, and caps at $300 the amount Americans may bring to relatives. According to the US state department, remittances form a significant role in the country's economy, totalling between $600m to $1bn per year, with most coming from families in the US.
Also today, Obama directed his administration to expand the list of items allowed in gift parcels sent to Cuba. It will include clothes, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing gear and other necessities, the Associated Press announced.
The policy shift comes days before Obama heads to Trinidad and Tobago for summit of the Americas talks. It is expected to bring howls of protest from hardline congressmen and senators who say the infusions of hard currency will only strengthen the Castro regime.
But the influence of the anti-Castro Cuban expatriate community in Florida has waned in recent years as a younger generation of Cuban-Americans with less animosity toward Fidel Castro and his brother and successor Raķl comes of age.
Last week, a delegation of African-American congressmen visited Cuba and met with the Castros, an indication of congressional resolve to loosening sanctions. In addition, politicians from farm states are keen to open greater trade with Cuba.
The US economic embargo on Cuba dates back to October 1960. President Dwight Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro in January 1961. It's a start