[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] has ordered the lifting of travel restrictions and restrictions on money transfers [press release] between Cuban-Americans and their families in Cuba. Obama also ordered that US telecommunications companies be allowed to work within Cuba to facilitate communication between families split between the two countries. The plan was put forward as not only necessary for the interests of the families, but also as way to bolster a democratic movement within Cuba:
Cuban American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy on the island. There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans. Accordingly, President Obama will direct the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Commerce to support the Cuban people’s desire for freedom and self-determination by lifting all restrictions on family visits and remittances as well as taking steps that will facilitate greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba and increase the flow of information and humanitarian resources directly to the Cuban people. The President is also calling on the Cuban government to reduce the charges it levies on cash remittances sent to the island so family members can be assured they are receiving the support sent to them.
The eased restrictions still do not lift [NPR report] the general economic embargo [DOS backgrounder] that has been in place against Cuba since 1962. Travel restrictions to Cuba will remain in effect for Americans of non-Cuban descent, and Americans continue to be barred from sending gifts to high-ranking Cuban politicians.
The administration had hinted that it may lift the restrictions [JURIST report] earlier this month. Earlier this year, Congress approved legislation that relaxed rules put in place by the Bush administration in 2004 [JURIST report]. In February, a bill [H.R. 874 materials] was introduced [JURIST report] into the US House of Representatives [official website] that would end the ban on travel by US residents to Cuba. A similar bill [S. 428 materials] is pending in the US Senate [official website]. In October 2008, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) [official website] adopted [UNGA press release] by 185-3 a resolution [text, PDF] urging the US to lift [JURIST report] its longstanding embargo on Cuba.