WASHINGTON – The U.S. government announced Tuesday new regulations aimed at further increasing trade and travel between the United States and Cuba, with the noteworthy feature that for the first time since the embargo was imposed, Cubans will have access to the U.S. dollar and financial institutions from the island for certain transactions.
The measures announced by the U.S. Commerce and Treasury Departments will take effect starting Wednesday, just a few days before President Barack Obama’s March 20-22 visit to Cuba.
Under the new regulations, U.S. banks will be authorized to open and maintain accounts for Cuban citizens living on the island.
In addition, Cubans who obtain a non-immigrant visa for a trip to the United States – for example athletes and artists – will be “authorized to earn a salary or compensation.”
As for travel regulations, for the first time individual visits by Americans to Cuba for educational reasons will be allowed, with no need to belong to a group as has been the rule up to now.
Since December 2014 when the process of bilateral normalization was launched, the U.S. government has progressively introduced new regulations “in order to empower the Cuban people and enable economic advancements for Cubans and Americans,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.
For her part, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker noted that the new measures “not only expand opportunities for economic engagement between the Cuban people and the American business community, but will also improve the lives of millions of Cuba’s citizens.”
This new easing of restrictions on travel and trade between the U.S. and Cuba that were imposed by the embargo is one of the most significant since the beginning of the thaw in bilateral relations.
In January, the Obama government announced new rules to make financing exports to Cuba easier and to increase the number of authorized trips to the island.
The two countries also agreed to reestablish direct postal deliveries with an inaugural flight on Wednesday.
Obama lands in Cuba next Sunday, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to travel to the island since Calvin Coolidge en 1928.
Besides meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, Obama will meet with members of civil society, business owners and dissidents.