Obama’s Cuba details revealed, to make travel easier to island

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A Ford Fairline 57 vintage car passes near the Capitol (L) in Havana

WASHINGTON — Americans will face fewer obstacles in traveling to Cuba under new regulations announced by the Obama administration Thursday, continuing a promise to thaw relations with the country the President started last month.

While short of lifting the decades-old U.S. embargo on the island, a move that would require Congressional approval, the administration’s new rules on travel and trade will likely herald a new era in relations between the two countries.

Under the softened regulations whose details were outlined in more detail Thursday, Americans will be able to visit Cuba without first seeking a license from the Treasury Department, so long as the travel meets certain criteria. The new regulations will take effect Friday, according to the U.S. Treasury.

President Barack Obama originally announced the change in U.S. policy on Cuba on Dec. 17, as part of a larger deal that secured the release of Alan Gross, an American government subcontractor who was imprisoned on the island for five years.

Cuban Americans traveling to see family members, American officials on government trips, journalists on assignment on the island as well as every day tourists visiting for educational, cultural, religious reasons will no longer need permission first.

The new regulations allow travel agents and airlines to book tickets for U.S. tourists to Cuba without a special license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control known as OFAC.

Americans traveling to the island will also be allowed to use credit cards, a restriction that complicated trips to Cuba in the past.

“Today’s announcement takes us one step closer to replacing out of date policies that were not working and puts in place a policy that helps promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement.

In unveiling the new regulations, the Obama administration revealed it is moving to establish a U.S. embassy in Havana, allowing American officials to make purchases that will revamp U.S. diplomatic facilities that already exist in the Cuban capital.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is slated to visit Cuba later this year.

“Today’s actions, which are being taken in coordination with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, give legal effect to the historic policy changes that President Obama announced,” Pritzker said in a statement.

The administration’s rules still present challenges for Americans traveling to Cuba. U.S. tourists will only be allowed to import up to $100 in alcohol and tobacco products, under the regulations, setting a limit on the number of Cuban cigars Americans will be permitted to bring home.

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