U.S. Removes Almost All Restrictions on Family Visits to Cuba

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009

The Treasury Department formally lifted nearly all U.S. restrictions on family travel to Cuba on Thursday, along with limits on how much money families can send to relatives on the island.

The department also eased regulations prohibiting U.S. telecommunications and satellite linkages between the United States and Cuba and licensing requirements for visitors engaged in agricultural and medical sales.

President Obama first announced most of the changes in April as part of a general opening that he said would allow Americans to reach out to the Cuban people, and he ordered Cabinet departments to take steps to implement the changes. Since then, the administration has also resumed a regular dialogue with the Cuban government on immigration issues and said it would move toward a resumption of direct mail service between the two countries.

The United States severed diplomatic relations with communist Cuba and first imposed a broad trade embargo during the Kennedy administration. Restrictions on travel and other nongovernmental contact have ebbed and flowed over the past five decades, with the tightest limits on family travel and remittances imposed during the administration of President George W. Bush.

U.S. citizens and residents were limited to family visits once every three years, and strict ceilings were placed on the amount and frequency of remittances. Although a congressional majority pushed through provisions exempting the sale of certain agricultural and medical goods from economic sanctions, the Bush administration set tight rules for allowing American sales representatives to travel to Cuba to negotiate the deals.

Obama has said the United States is not willing to explore a resumption of diplomatic ties with Cuba until it releases its political prisoners and the Cuban people are allowed democratic freedoms, measures that the government of President Raúl Castro, who replaced his brother, Fidel, last year, has shown no sign of undertaking.

Licensing for Cuba travel and remittances is regulated by Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which officially amended its regulations Thursday.

The amendments expanded the definition of "close relatives" -- previously limited to parents, spouses and children -- and said there would be "no limits" on the frequency or duration of their visits to Cuba. Virtually all restrictions on money sent to Cuban family members were lifted.

The measure easing the sale of agricultural products was not part of the changes Obama initially announced, but it was pushed by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who said in a statement Thursday that the change "will make it easier for our producers to sell their goods to Cuba, and it makes good economic sense for family farmers in North Dakota and across the country."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company