Obama administration lifts some travel restrictions to Cuba

The Obama administration is going to make travel to Cuba easier than it has been in decades, the BBC reports. Students and religious groups will now be allowed to go to the Caribbean nation, which has not had normal relations with the U.S. since Fidel Castro overthrew the pro-American government in 1959.

Specifically, religious groups will be able to sponsor “religious travel” to Cuba, and Cuban religious organizations will be able to receive remittances from the U.S. Universities and colleges will be able to send students there for educational purposes. Both of these groups will now be able to fly from U.S. airports on chartered flights.

The trade embargo will remain in place, although that was also lightened in 2009 when Obama allowed Cuban-Americans to go visit family and send money. Under the new rules coming into place, any U.S. citizen will be able to send up to $500 per fiscal quarter to non-family members in Cuba to help fund private business projects.

While Americans have been able to travel to Cuba relatively easily by going through third countries, this makes things a lot more straightforward. You still can’t buy Cuban cigars legally in the U.S., but if you meet the criteria you can now enjoy an ice cream like this guy in a photo by user localsurfer from Gadling’s flickr pool.

The reason for these measures is pretty obvious. Having been unable to assassinate Castro or get him deposed over the past 51 years, and having seen that the embargo hasn’t led to regime change, the U.S. government is trying a more subtle approach. By encouraging contacts with religious groups and the intelligentsia, and by funding private enterprise through remittances, Obama hopes to encourage change from within.

Cuba Libre: Is travel to Cuba easing for some or all Americans?

[This slogan, the first one I spotted in central Havana, reads, “Revolution is: not to lie — ever — or violate ethical principles.” Is there room for compromise between the U.S. and Cuba? Only time will tell.]

On the heels of my own journey to Cuba, news has hit the fan with regard to lifting travel restrictions for Americans to Cuba. The latest news from Washington: Cuban-Americans are now allowed to travel back to their native island freely. This freer policy is designed to allow open communication between local Cubans and their relatives living in the U.S.. Therefore, in addition to freer travel, the U.S. is now allowing telecommunications companies to procure licenses in Cuba so that relatives can keep in touch.

For the rest of us Americans who are interested in traveling to Cuba as tourists, the embargo is still very much in effect: you can travel there (through Mexico or Canada), but you can’t spend money in Cuba. That is the biggest and longest-standing (50 years, to be exact) conundrum that likely still exists in the 21st century, but it basically means that Americans cannot yet travel to Cuba as tourists. They can, however, apply for a license to travel to Cuba for educational purposes or on business through the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
The formal announcement of this slight (but not full) amendment to travel restrictions comes just days before Obama’s attendance at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, where the antiquated U.S.-Cuba trade embargo will certainly be a hot topic. Most Latin American countries want to see a normalized relationship forged between Obama and Cuba’s relatively new leader, Raúl Castro (Fidel’s brother). Since assuming the official role as Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro has already implemented his own freer policies such as cell phone use and television and DVD access, but most Cubans still cannot afford such luxuries.

I will be writing “Cuba Libre” posts for the remainder of the week, covering destination information and general observations and experiences from my recent trip to Cuba, so please stay tuned for more updates and travel information.

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE.

[via The New York Times and Time.com]