WASHINGTON – U.S. citizens will find it easier to travel to Cuba and to send remittances to the communist-ruled island under a new set of guidelines announced Friday by the Obama administration.
The measures “will increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities,” the White House said in a statement.
Under the new regulations, religious organizations and educational institutions will be able to sponsor travel to Cuba.
Universities will also be allowed to organize academic seminars, conferences and workshops in Cuba with participation by faculty, staff and students.
“Specific licensing for a greater scope of journalistic activities” is likewise to be permitted, the White House said.
Fulfilling a campaign promise, President Barack Obama issued an order in April 2009 scrapping restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans with family on the island.
The changes announced Friday include authorization for any U.S. resident to send up to $500 per quarter to non-relatives in Cuba for the purpose of supporting private economic activity.
Money may not be sent to government officials or Communist Party members.
To facilitate travel to Cuba, Obama will permit all U.S. international airports that have “adequate customs and immigration capabilities” to apply for authorization to accommodate licensed charters.
“The president believes these actions, combined with the continuation of the (48-year-old economic) embargo, are important steps in reaching the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all its citizens,” the White House said.
The announcement came a day after the Cuban government denounced a meeting in Havana between high-ranking U.S. officials and a group of dissidents.
“This action confirms once again that there’s been no change in the United States’ policy of subversion and interference in Cuba’s internal affairs and that its priority continues to be to incite internal counterrevolution and promote destabilizing activities,” the Cuban Foreign Ministry said late Thursday in a statement.
A delegation of U.S. officials headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson met Thursday in Havana with 12 dissidents after holding official immigration talks a day earlier with Cuban authorities.
During her stay in Cuba, Jacobson also met with U.S. government contractor Alan Gross, who was arrested more than a year ago in Havana while distributing laptop computers, mobile phones and other communications equipment to the island’s Jewish community.
Havana has accused the man of espionage and aiding dissidents but not yet filed formal charges against him.
The United States has repeatedly denied the accusations against Gross and during Thursday’s meeting reiterated its request that Cuba release him.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela said during an official visit to Chile earlier this week that the United States finds it “very difficult to advance on matters of common interest” with Cuba while President Raul Castro’s government continues to hold Gross.
Gross, 60, works for a Maryland company hired by the U.S. Agency for International Development to promote democracy in communist Cuba. EFE