Signaling a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy, President Obama announced plans Monday to lift some travel restrictions to Cuba for Cuban-Americans and to improve telecommunications with the island. A reporter details the decision.
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We begin our coverage of the Cuba story with this report narrated by NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman.
President Obama's decision today to ease restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba by Cuban-Americans fulfilled a promise candidate Obama made last year.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
It's time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and their fathers, their sisters and their brothers. It's time to let Cuban-American money make their families less dependent on the Castro regime.
Currently, Cuban-Americans are limited to one trip to the island per year and remittances up to $1,200. There are an estimated 1.5 million Americans with family members living in Cuba.
Administration officials rolled out the policy this afternoon at the White House. It also expands the list of items that can be sent in gift packages to the island, to include clothing, personal items, and other necessities.
Additionally, the U.S. government will allow telecommunications firms to seek licenses to provide mobile phone, radio, and television services to people on the island.
White House Special Adviser Dan Restrepo.
DAN RESTREPO, special adviser to the President: This is forms — the modern forms of telecommunication to increase the flow of information to the Cuban people so that, if anyone is standing in the way of the Cuban people getting information, it is the Cuban government and it is not some outside technical problem that can be pointed to.
Cuban-Americans will be able to pay for relatives on the island to get those services.
The Obama administration did leave in place the 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. Officials said they hope to use it as leverage to get the Castro regime to release political prisoners.
Restrepo suggested today more changes might be coming.
U.S. policy towards Cuba is not frozen in time. It's not frozen in time today. These are the steps that the president believes make sense to advance the cause of freedom in Cuba.
Obviously, like all aspects of policy, you have to react to the world that you encounter. And so I don't think we should think of — we shouldn't think of things as being frozen in time.
U.S. policy toward Cuba likely will be an issue of much discussion later this week, when President Obama travels to Trinidad for the Summit of the Americas.