News / Americas

    US Boosts Ties With Cuba Ahead of Obama Visit

    FILE - U.S. and Cuban flags hang side by side at the U.S pavilion during the Havana International Fair (FIHAV) in Cuba, Nov. 2, 2015.
    FILE - U.S. and Cuban flags hang side by side at the U.S pavilion during the Havana International Fair (FIHAV) in Cuba, Nov. 2, 2015.

    The White House announced changes Tuesday to travel and trade restrictions on Cuba, ahead of President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the island nation next week.

    The easing of restrictions marked the latest round of efforts to improve relations between the two countries since the formal restoration of diplomatic relations last year. The changes open up educational travel to Cuba for individual Americans, allow Cubans working in the United States to earn salaries, and reduce trade and financial barriers to improve business ties between the two countries. 

    In a briefing call with reporters, White House Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes said the easing is part of a continued effort to "adjust our policies to empower the Cuban people and improve their lives."

    FILE - U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands at the start of their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015.
    FILE - U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands at the start of their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015.

    The changes, effective Wednesday, allow for Cuban nationals in non-immigrant status to receive salaries in the United States. U.S. companies also can sponsor Cuban nationals for work in the United States.

    More exchanges permitted

    The new amendments increase opportunities for "people to people" exchanges, including allowing individual U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba and American support of educational projects in Cuba through grants and scholarships.

    Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who specializes in U.S. laws relating to Cuba, said the changes effectively mean there are no restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba. 

    "Without saying so, the Obama administration has deregulated travel to Cuba," he said.

    John Kavulich, a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Trade and Economic Council, said, "This change in travel was all driven by the airlines, because airlines need to fill seats if they have regularly scheduled service. They need individuals, not just groups."

    The U.S. and Cuba are expected to resume scheduled commercial air flights, 110 flights a day, later this year.

    Tuesday's changes also included amendments relating to licensing of Cuban exports and cargo, and allowed for Cubans to open U.S. bank accounts from Cuba.

    The administration's goal with the monetary policy change is to "re-create what the Cuban Revolution destroyed, a middle class in Cuba. By supporting small businesses, exporting directly to small businesses, that's all about resurrecting the middle class," Kavulich said.

    FILE - Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, says the administration welcomes efforts to engage with Congress about lifting more U.S. travel and trade restrictions on Cuba.
    FILE - Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, says the administration welcomes efforts to engage with Congress about lifting more U.S. travel and trade restrictions on Cuba.

    Restrictions on direct U.S. investment in Cuba and Cuban imports to the United States remain in place because of the embargo with Cuba. Tourist travel to Cuba also remains prohibited. The amendments mark the fifth round of changes in Commerce and Treasury restrictions.

    Earlier, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the new steps toward normalized relations with Cuba "build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial freedoms, and chart a new course in U.S.-Cuban relations."

    Embargo ‘an impediment’

    Rhodes, in the briefing, said the administration welcomed efforts to engage with Congress on lifting the embargo fully or in part.

    "At a certain point, the embargo is an impediment to the very engagement that has a chance of promoting a better life for the Cuban people," he said.

    Outstanding U.S. property claims dating back to the early days of the Fidel Castro regime, as well as Cuba’s reparation claims, remain a continuing obstacle in the relationship between the two countries.

    Rhodes said the administration believed it could make "significant progress" in the dialogue regarding those claims.

    "The resolution of those claims can also help open up space for American businesses to engage in greater commercial activity with Cuba, so there is some incentive for Cuba to resolve those issues," Rhodes said.

    Historic visit

    Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years when he arrives there next week.

    The two nations endured some 50 years of hostilities, after revolutionary Fidel Castro overthrew the U.S.-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista.

    Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel Castro's younger brother, renewed diplomatic relations in December 2014, eased trade barriers in the months since then and reopened embassies in Havana and Washington.

    VOA's Ken Bredemeier and Bernard Shusman contributed to this report.


    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp

    You May Like

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    More Americas News

    Coca Cola to Halt Some Production in Venezuela

    Sugar shortages and a deep recession have been forcing production shutdowns across the country

    Recording Allegedly Shows Minister Plotting Against Brazil's Rousseff

    Planning Minister Romero Jucá, who will step down temporarily, denies allegation, says words in published transcript of tape were taken out of context

    Mercury Poisoning Prompts Peru to Declare State of Emergency in Amazon

    People, rivers and fish poisoned; government blames illegal gold mining

    Peru's Fujimori Faces Money-laundering Investigation

    Probe opened in March, but became widely known Friday after report in Lima newspaper; investigation is focused on alleged suspicious financial transactions and campaign contributions

    'El Chapo' Cleared for Extradition to the United States

    Drug lord's lawyers say they are filing multiple legal challenges to extradition order

    Diego Rivera Painting Sells Privately for $15.7 Million

    'Dance in Tehuantepec,' created in 1928, is the most important Rivera work in private hands outside of Mexico