obama cuba policy, us cuba policy
Lawrence Jackson/AP

Obama to Follow Through on Easing Cuba Travel

March 16, 2009 03:22 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The U.S. Senate has voted to allow Cuban-Americans more freedom to visit their home country, an indication of President Obama’s hope to ease travel restrictions to Cuba.

Cold War-Era Restrictions Finally Eased

The measures are part of a $410 billion package passed by the Senate on Tuesday, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).

The New York Times wrote that President Obama signed the bill, which is "packed with special projects in order to keep government running," on Wednesday.

Largely supported by Democrats, the bill allows an annual family visit to extended family in Cuba with freedom to spend more money, and lessens some "restrictions on food and medicine sales to Cuba." The measures withstood "a series of amendments on a range of issues," chiefly efforts by Cuban foes not to ease pressure on Raul Castro and Havana. The Cold War-era U.S. embargo on Cuba will remain in place, according to AFP.

Bloomberg reported that to quell worries of some Democratic senators, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner indicated he would "impose tight oversight" on business travel to Cuba.

Before Obama took office, analysts discussed the great potential for change in U.S.-Cuba relations with him in the White House. Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations told CNN that change in U.S. policy toward Havana “would be widely applauded by Latin America and globally, and it would give a boost to the Obama administration’s claim that it represents turning over a new leaf.”

Background: Obama’s plans for Cuba

Obama has criticized the Bush administration’s policy in Latin America, and according to NPR, has “proposed a series of economic initiatives he calls a ‘new alliance for the Americas.’” Obama told a crowd in Miami in May 2008 that if elected he would “reappoint a special envoy to the Americas, increase aid and economic development investment and work to promote democracy throughout the region,” reported NPR.

Related Topic: Tourism in Cuba

In November, Cuba received its 2 millionth tourist of the year, marking the occasion with celebrations at airports in Santiago and Varadero. Although Cuba has welcomed more than 2 million tourists each year since 2004, this year it has happened earlier than ever, “leading Cuba to predict it would pass its 2005 record of 2.3 million visitors,” according to the Associated Press. Most of Cuba’s tourists come from Britain, Canada, Spain and Italy, reported the wire service.

The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has called on the Obama administration “to permit Americans to travel to Cuba.” The ASTA and other business organizations sent a formal request to the incoming administration on Dec. 4, asking that it remove the travel ban to Cuba. The letter also stated, “Were the American people allowed to travel to Havana, as they currently are allowed to travel to Pyongyang, Tehran, Khartoum, and other cities whose nations’ leaders are publicly opposed to American interests, they could serve as ambassadors of freedom and American values to the Cuban people.”

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