New U.S.-Cuba Travel and Trade Rules Come into Effect
from BBC News
New travel and trade rules between the U.S. and Cuba have come into effect in the biggest policy shift between the two countries in more than 50 years. Measures include allowing U.S. citizens to use credit cards in Cuba and for U.S. businesses to export some technologies.
Earlier this week, U.S. officials said Cuba had completed the release of 53 political prisoners
as agreed, as part of the historic deal.
The move implements last month's agreement to re-establish ties severed since 1961.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the changes would "immediately enable the American people to provide more resources to empower the Cuban population to become less dependent upon the state-driven economy."
While ordinary tourism is still banned, the new regulations will allow U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for any of a dozen specific reasons without first obtaining a special license from the government.
United Airlines announced on Thursday plans to begin flying to Cuba from its terminals in Houston and Newark.
U.S. credit and debit cards can be used there and there will be no more limits on how much money U.S. citizens can spend in Cuba each day. About 170,000 authorized U.S. travelers went to Cuba last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Americans will be able to take home up to $100 (£66) in alcohol and tobacco from Cuba.
U.S. firms will also find it easier to export mobile phones and software to Cuba, as well as provide internet services there. According to a White House estimate, Cuba currently has about a 5% internet penetration rate—one of the lowest in the world.
A change in the regulations will also allow U.S. investments in some small businesses and agricultural operations.
Cubans hope that with the lifting of trade restrictions they will be able to import rare commodities such as car parts.
The thaw in relations between the two countries was announced last month in simultaneous televised speeches by President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro.
Next week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will lead a delegation to Cuba to discuss migration issues—the first high-level talks since the easing of relations was announced.
Although the latest moves put a large dent in the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba's communist government, only Congress can lift it completely. President Obama used his executive powers to ease the embargo, defying hardline critics. Analysts say Congress is unlikely to agree to lift the embargo completely any time soon.
Cuban-American Republican Senator Marco Rubio said Mr. Obama's policy would harm ordinary Cubans. "This is a windfall for the Castro regime that will be used to fund its repression against Cubans," he said in a statement.