Washington — The United States will allow Cuban Americans unlimited travel and money transfers to family in Cuba, the White House says.
Cuban Americans may also send clothes, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing gear and other personal necessities to family members in Cuba. Businesses will be able to obtain licenses to sell cellular telephones, television services and other telecommunications devices to Cubans, with family members in the United States allowed to pay for them, the White House said.
The announcement was made by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and Daniel Restrepo, who is the National Security Council’s senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs, during the regular daily White House press briefing April 13. The announcement comes four days before the fifth Summit of the Americas begins in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Restrepo made the same announcement, but in Spanish, a first for the White House.
Gibbs and Restrepo said these actions were intended to reach out directly to the Cuban people.
“In taking these steps to help bridge the gap among divided Cuban families and to promote the increased flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people, President Obama is working to fulfill the goals he identified both during his presidential campaign and since taking office,” Gibbs said.
“All who embrace core democratic values long for a Cuba that respects the basic human, political and economic rights of all of its citizens,” he said.
U.S. policy toward Cuba has been widely discussed throughout the hemisphere in recent months and is expected to be a topic at the Summit of the Americas.
Previously, Cubans living in the United States were limited to one visit annually to Cuba to see family and were limited to sending $1,200 per person per year in cash to family members in the island nation.
Sending money to senior government officials and members of the Cuban Communist Party remains prohibited. A 47-year-old trade embargo on Cuba also remains unchanged.
The United States first imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1962 and travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens was banned in 1963. During the ensuing decades, both bans have been modified and lifted periodically.
Separately, the State Department announced that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago. The secretary will also travel to New York April 14 to address the Haiti Donors Conference at the Inter-American Development Bank.
LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN CONGRESS
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced legislation in the Senate to permit unlimited travel to Cuba. A companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives.
The lawmakers believe that permitting U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba freely will break down economic and trade barriers between the two estranged countries. “Increased travel to the island nation will further the cause of democracy, advance human rights and be beneficial for U.S. agriculture and business groups,” Senator Byron Dorgan said March 31.
The measure — entitled the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act — is being co-sponsored by senators Michael Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, and Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican.
“Our policy with Cuba punishes Americans by prohibiting their right to travel. Further, this policy has done nothing to weaken the Castro regime,” Dorgan said. “It’s long past time to change this ill-advised policy.”
Enzi said the United States has blocked travel to Cuba and severely restricted business with the island for more than 50 years and it has not worked. This legislation is designed to end that practice and open Cuba to democracy, he said.
Both bills have to work their way through congressional committees and be voted on by each chamber of Congress before a final version can be sent to the president. The legislative process could take two years to complete, depending on the level of opposition and amendments added before a final vote is taken.
What foreign affairs decisions should President Obama consider? Comment on America.gov's blog.