US eases some restrictions on Cuba

Updated

The Obama administration will enact new rules on Monday that would ease travel, commerce and investment restrictions on Cuba, as part of the president’s ongoing effort to restore relations with the country.

Under the regulatory changes, which were announced Friday, American companies for the first time in decades would be allowed to open businesses and hire workers in Cuba. General licenses for telecommunications and internet-based services will be expanded, and travelers are allowed to open bank accounts.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the move would usher “constructive change for the Cuban people.”

“A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike,” Lew said in a statement. “By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”

WATCH: Controversy over Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba

The shift to ease sanctions on Cuba, comes on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to the Caribbean country this weekend before heading to the U.S. next week Tuesday. The Pope played an instrumental role in helping to restore diplomatic relations between both countries.

While the U.S. embargo on Cuba cannot be lifted without congressional action, President Obama has been calling for support from lawmakers after he announced his more to restore relations in December. The president’s move has been scrutinized by Republicans lawmakers and GOP presidential candidates, who claimed that he overreached his authority, as he did with his sweeping executive action on immigration last year.

The president has since then been calling for “an honest and serious debate” with lawmakers. But with resistance from the Republican-controlled Congress, the White House has been using administrative action to normalize diplomatic relations. 

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Other changes unveiled include, allowing transportation and delivery companies to do business with the country, and educational institutions in both countries to expand exchange programs and joint non-commercial academic research projects. Limits to the amount of money people are allowed to send to the country will also be removed entirely.

Previously, people could only send $2,000 per quarter to Cuban nationals or carry $10,000 there, according the Treasury Department. Cubans were limited to carrying $3,000.

“In addition to expanding our commercial engagement with the Cuban people, these additional adjustments have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across the country,” said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

But while American business might embrace these new efforts, the regulations exceeded the expectations of those in Cuba, said John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc.

He called the sweeping regulations an “assault [because] U.S. companies told the administration ‘this is what we need,” while the Cuba government was shut of the conversation. Kavulich further added that nothing is being done on Cuba’s part to restore relations.

“We don’t know what the Cuban government plan to do. Cuba has not made any changes to support President Obama’s decision,” he said.

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US eases some restrictions on Cuba

Updated