Obama administration loosens Cuba rules in advance of historic visit
Gregory Korte, USA TODAY 11:20 a.m. EDT March 15, 2016
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced a new round of measures
chipping away at the decades-long sanctions against Cuba Tuesday,
encouraging more person-to-person educational travel and allowing Cuban
nationals to get jobs in the United States or to open U.S. bank accounts.
The rules could allow Cuban athletes and entertainers — including
baseball players — to get jobs in the United States without having to
defect from Cuba, officials said.
“It certainly does address the ability of Cuban athletes who could earn
salaries in the United States to do so. That’s obviously one of the
issues that (Major League Baseball) has been discussing with Cuba,” said
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. But for the rules to allow
a new influx of Cuban ballplayers, Cuba may still have to change its
rules to allow scouts into the country, he said.
The new measures come days before President Obama departs for Havana for
a historic two-day mission to improve economic ties with the communist
nation, even while he also plans to meet with dissidents in an effort to
push the regime toward democracy.
It’s the fifth round of new rules the Obama administration has announced
since opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014, allowing
educational visits and, later this year, direct commercial flights. But
the current travel regulations require that educational trips be
sponsored by an educational organization.
Under the rules that go into effect Wednesday, educational trips can now
be person-to-person — allowing, for example, more efforts to build
democratic institutions in Cuba. The traveler would be required to keep
records of the full-time educational activities for five years.
“This is something that we will monitor,” said Andrea Gacki of the
Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. “We do have
confidence that individuals will be able to come up with ways to engage
with the Cuban people in ways that are more affordable and less
expensive than having to work through a formal program.”
Existing regulations also allow for family family visits, government
business, journalistic activity, professional research, religious
celebrations, public performances and exhibitions. But tourism is still
prohibited under the embargo, creating a system of exceptions .
The regulations add to a growing system of increasingly exceptions to
the Cuban embargo, which is set by law and can only be lifted by Congress.
“The fact is, we found ways consistent with the law to open up space for
further travel and commercial engagement, in part because we were also
able to demonstrate ways that it benefits the Cuban people,” Rhodes
said. “But at a certain point, the embargo is an impediment to the very
engagement that has a change of improving the quality of life for the
Rhodes said the new steps aren’t contingent on any reciprocal action by
Cuba. “These are important changes, and they will, we believe, advance
our own national interests,” he said.
Other steps announced by the Treasury, Commerce and State Departments
Tuesday include a relaxation of restrictions on shipping to
Cuba, imports of Cuban software, and consumption of Cuban goods by
Americans while in third countries.
Source: Obama administration loosens Cuba rules in advance of historic