The administration of President Barack Obama announced it will ease but not remove travel restrictions to Cuba, allowing students, religious and cultural groups to visit the country, according to reports from Reuters and other sources. While full details of the decision are yet to be announced, the decision drew a mixed reaction from members of Congress.
The changes were announced late Friday and appear not to permit general travel to Cuba. Several travel organizations, including the NTA and USTOA have urged the outright opening of travel to Cuba.
According to The Hill, the proposed changes will allow any American to send as much as $500 every three months to non-family members, or a total of $2,000 yearly, to "support private economic activity" to Cubans. Reportedly, no changes will be made to the general license for family remittances.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a Cuban immigrant, said the move to help those who live in Cuba would only aid the Cuban government, according to Reuters.
“Loosening these regulations will not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba," she said in a statement. "These changes will not aid in ushering in respect for human rights. And they certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them. These changes undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectives and will bring economic benefits to the Cuban regime.”
In support, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) reportedly applauded the move, noting that Cuba is the only country in the world to which the United States government does not allow open travel.
The policy will "open the way for the good will of citizens of both countries to forge deeper ties that are in our national interest today and in the future," the Senator said in a statement.
Kerry said he would continue pushing legislation, similar to what he sponsored in the last Congress, that would allow free travel to Cuba.
More international airports also will be allowed to offer charter service compared with only three airports now, according to The Hill.
The administration said the move is part of "a series of steps to continue efforts to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future." Details of the policy shift will be reported in the Federal Register.