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U.S. To Lift More Commercial and Travel Restrictions Against Cuba

The United States announced it would continue to ease economic penalties against Cuba and loosens travel restrictions to the island.

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The United States continued to lift economic penalties against Cuba by announcing Friday it would ease restrictions on American companies seeking to do business there. The new rules also allow more people to travel to the island nation for authorized reasons.

The changes, announced by the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments on the eve of Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba, take effect Monday. They allow telecommunications companies to expand their presence there, paving the way for greater internet and cellular access to the information-starved nation. They also permit U.S. companies to open offices in Cuba. Additionally, limits on the amount of money that can be sent to the long-time U.S. foe are being lifted.

The changes did not alter U.S. policy on who can travel to Cuba, so U.S. tourism in the most technical sense — going there for vacation — is still prohibited. But they did ease restrictions on authorized travelers who can claim a broad number of reasons for going to the island, which include family visits, workshops, sports competitions, journalism, education, and research, among others.

Those travelers can now be accompanied to Cuba by close relatives, defined as someone related to a person by blood, marriage, or adoption, according to a joint fact sheet released by the Treasury and Commerce departments. They can have their trips arranged by transportation providers, and can also open bank accounts in Cuba.

“A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement. “By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”

Friday’s announcement is the latest development in the normalization process between Washington and Havana, which were renewed in December 2014 after a five-decade standoff.  The United States is now in the process of lifting the economic embargo against Cuba, in place since former Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy restricted U.S. exports to the island. It now has full diplomatic ties with the United States.

Friday’s announcement comes a week after Cuban President Raúl Castro announced he would release 3,522 prisoners — one of the biggest amnesties since the 1959 revolution that brought his brother, Fidel, to power. Cuba similarly released prisoners when Pope John Paul II visited the island in 1998, and in 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI stopped by. Pope Francis was instrumental in improving relations between Washington and Havana; he facilitated the talks to make it happen.

#CubaNow, an advocacy group that lobbies for change in Cuba, praised the Obama administration’s latest move.

“This latest set of regulatory changes represents another momentous step by the Obama administration to support the Cuban people through greater engagement with the American private sector,” #CubaNow Executive Director Ric Herrero said in a statement.

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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