United States citizens with relatives in Cuba can send them unlimited cash and visit the island as long and often as they would like under new rules from President Barack Obama’s administration.
The rules, made effective immediately by the US Treasury Department, had been announced by President Obama in April to ease US trade restrictions imposed on Cuba’s revolution half a century ago.
Until now, Cuban-US citizens had been allowed to travel to the island only once a year and were limited to sending only 1,200 US dollars per person in cash to needy family members in Cuba.
But now they can send as much money as they want to a larger group of relatives that includes aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins, a reversal of a restriction introduced by the George W Bush administration in a bid to squeeze Cuba's government financially.
However the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which has policed the trade embargo and fined US citizens, caught spending money in Cuba, said US visitors could only spend 179 US dollars a day on trips to the island. That is the same amount as the US State Department's per diem rate for official visits. Previously, family travellers were allowed to spend just 50 USD a day.
Separate regulations issued by the US Commerce Department doubled the value limit for gift parcels sent to Cubans to 800 per month and widened the allowed recipients. Non-monetary gifts could only be sent previously to immediate family members and they may now be sent to any individual or to independent religious, educational and charitable organizations in Cuba.
The Commerce Department also eliminated a 44-pound limit on personal baggage to Cuba and allows visitors to bring donated personal communications devices such as mobile phone systems, computers, software, satellite receivers and digital cameras.
But the loosening of the rules for Cuban-Americans did not affect a general ban on travel by US citizens to Cuba and tight restrictions on academic and cultural exchanges.
The rules provide for some changes that could lay the groundwork for future trade links between the United States and Cuba in banking and telecommunications.
Relaxation of the remittance rules allow US banks to set up exchange arrangements with Cuban institutions to handle the transfers. The lack of such financial exchanges was considered a hindrance to the growth of agricultural trade with Cuba that was first allowed nearly a decade ago.
The Treasury rules allow US telecommunications companies to set up fibre-optic cable and satellite links and enter into cell-phone roaming service agreements with Cuba. They allow US residents to pay for satellite radio and television services provided to Cuban individuals by third-country firms.
The rules allow transactions and travel related to establishing telecoms services between the two countries. The US Treasury also established a general travel license to Cuba for US employees of firms seeking to sell agricultural and medical products there.
Companies providing charter flights between the United States and Cuba said they expected a spike in passenger business as a result of the new regulations.