US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Friday ordered the Departments of State, Treasury, and Homeland Security [official websites] to take steps to ease restrictions on travel and remittances [press release] to Cuba. The new regulations, to be promulgated as modifications of the Cuban Assets Control [31 CFR § 515.101 et seq.] and Customs and Border Protection [19 CFR § 122.151 et seq.] regulations, will allow greater travel from the US to Cuba for religious and educational purposes, the transfer of up to $2000 per year to non-family members in Cuba so long as they are not senior government or Communist Party leaders, and will allow all US international airports to service charter flights between the two countries. Explaining the reasons for the new regulations, the press release stated:
The President believes these actions, combined with the continuation of the embargo, are important steps in reaching the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all its citizens. These steps build upon the President's April 2009 actions to help reunite divided Cuban families; to facilitate greater telecommunications with the Cuban people; and to increase humanitarian flows to Cuba.The regulations will build off of those issued in April 2009 [JURIST report], which eased travel and remittances restrictions for Cuban Americans and their families in Cuba only. The new rules will take effect once published in the Federal Register [official website] within two weeks.
The propriety of the US embargo on Cuba [CFR backgrounder], in effect since 1962, has been a topic of debate in recent years. In July, the US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture voted to lift travel and trade restrictions [JURIST report] to Cuba. The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act [HR 4645 materials] would have eliminated travel bans to Cuba and prohibited money transfer restrictions. The Treasury Department lifted some travel restrictions and restrictions on money transfers [JURIST report] between Cuban Americans and their families in Cuba in September 2009. The department also authorized US telecommunications companies to work within Cuba to facilitate communication between families split between the two countries. In October 2008, the UN General Assembly [official website] adopted a resolution [JURIST report] urging the US to lift the embargo.