US President Barack Obama is allowing Americans to make unlimited transfers of money and visits to relatives in Cuba and easing other restrictions, ushering in a new era of openness toward the island nation ruled by communists for 50 years.
The announcement was made on Monday by presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs and, in Spanish, by Dan Restrepo, the president’s top aide on Latin American policy.
“The president would like to see greater freedom for the Cuban people. There are actions that he can and has taken today to open up the flow of information to provide some important steps to help that,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said Obama was only one part of the equation, with the White House calling on Cuba to do more as well.
With the changes, Obama aims to lessen Cubans’ dependence on the regime of former Cuban president Fidel Castro and his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, hoping that will lead them to demand progress on political freedoms, the spokesman said. About 1.5 million Americans have relatives on the island nation that turned to communist rule in 1959 when Castro seized control.
Some US lawmakers protested the changes, saying they could funnel money or goods to the Castro regime. Others, backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba, wanted Obama to go farther and lift restrictions on travel by all Americans to Cuba.
Officials said that Obama was keeping the decades-old US trade embargo — for now, at least — arguing that the policy pressures the regime to free all political prisoners as one step toward normalized relations with the US.
Restrepo said US policy toward Cuba “is not frozen in time.” He had no timetable for when future decisions might be made.
“There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans,” Obama said in a campaign speech last May in Miami, the heart of the Cuban-American community. “It’s time to let Cuban Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers.”
In Havana, Fidel Castro called for an end to the US embargo and said Cuba was not asking for “charity,” hours after Obama announced the changes in US policy.
”Not a word was said about the embargo, which is the most cruel of all actions,” Castro said in an article published late on Monday on the official Cubadebate Web site.
“Conditions are such that Obama could use his talents toward a constructive policy that would end what has failed for almost half a century,” he wrote.
Castro said that he did not question Obama’s “sincerity and desire to change the politics and image of the United States.”