- By David FrancisDavid Francis is a staff writer for Foreign Policy, where he oversees FP's breaking news blog, The Cable. An award-winning journalist, David has reported from all over Europe, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico, and Afghanistan on terrorism, national security, the geopolitics of energy, global economics, and the European financial crisis. His work has been published in outlets including the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times Deutschland, Slate, and SportsIllustrated.com.
The thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba continued Friday, with perhaps the most significant breakthrough since the longtime foes started normalizing relations late in 2014: Americans can now bring home all the Cuban rum and cigars they want.
That’s due to a new round of executive actions the White House announced in hopes of increasing travel and trade with the communist island nation. Under the new rules, which go into effect Monday, Americans can purchase unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars as long as they aren’t sold for profit. American tourists to Cuba are going to have to consume the items themselves.
“Challenges remain — and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights — but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “The progress of the last two years, bolstered by today’s action, should remind the world of what’s possible when we look to the future together.”
In addition to lifting restrictions on booze and tobacco, the White House also announced it will now allow exports to Cuba of some U.S. consumer goods sold on the Internet, and let U.S. firms improve Cuban infrastructure for humanitarian purposes. In addition, U.S. companies can now provide safety services to commercial aircraft in Cuba; American air carriers are starting to schedule flights to Havana. Finally, Cuban pharmaceutical companies can now apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval.
The actions are the latest steps in the warming relations between Cuba and the United States. Both countries have opened embassies in respective capitals, and Cuban President Raúl Castro has visited the United States. Obama returned the favor last spring, when he traveled to Havana to meet with Castro.
Lawrence Ward, partner at Dorsey & Whitney, a law firm focused on American trade, said ending the ban on rum and cigars is a huge boost to the Cuban economy.
“Cuban tobacco and alcohol products are two of the most sought-after commodities for U.S. tourists and lifting the limit of the value of these — and other — goods that Americans can bring back to the United States for personal use undoubtedly will have a positive impact on the Cuban economy,” Ward said. “The health-related and humanitarian transactions changes will serve to directly benefit ordinary Cuban citizens and will enhance the U.S. pharmaceutical and health-care sectors too.”
Despite all of the changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba made during Obama’s second term, one key roadblock between the countries remains in place: the five-decade-old economic embargo on Cuba. Congress has resisted the call for it to be lifted.
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