In what may be the first step toward lifting restrictions for all Americans, Congress passed a law this week relaxing travel rules to Cuba and easing the importation of certain goods and supplies.
Once President Barack Obama signs the law, Cuban-Americans will be able to travel to Cuba to visit their relatives once a year and stay as long as they like.
Currently, Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba can only visit once every three years, and only for two weeks at a time.
The definition of “relative” will also be expanded to include not only parents, grandparents, children, and siblings, but also cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles.
Various foods and medicines will also be allowed into the country and will be permitted to be sold there, which in effect spells the end of the 47-year-long trade embargo between Cuba and the United States.
The new travel rules, which were part of the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress Tuesday night, represent a rolling back of stricter rules implemented three years ago by former President George W. Bush.
In 2004 Bush restricted relatives’ travel to only once every three years, and only permitted travelers to stay for 14 days. Travelers were previously not allowed to spend money while in Cuba, whereas now they will be able to spend up to $179 per day.
The provisions of the law represent a compromise that fully satisfies neither anti-Communist hardliners who believe the U.S. should maintain a strict embargo against the country, nor some Cuban-American groups, who feel the President reneged on previous promises to relax the existing rules even further.
It is still possible that U.S. policy may eventually soften even more. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has publicly stated that the Obama administration is “reviewing” its policies towards Cuba.
Others point to the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, which the U.S. and 22 other nations will attend, as a prime opportunity for America to further redefine its relationship with Cuba.
Many feel that it’s just a matter of time until restrictions are substantially eased. Some believe that cruise companies quietly started charting viable harbors around the island after Raul Castro took over the reins of power from his ailing brother Fidel in February 2008, in anticipation of the country opening up to American tourism.
There is even a pier being built in Key West, which many think is a future ferry port to Cuba.
Cuba is already a hugely popular tourist destination amongst nationals of countries which allow travel there. The island’s beautiful beaches, lush greenery and hospitality have attracted large numbers of visitors from Canada, Europe and South America.
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.
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