Obama eases restrictions on Cuba, lifts
limits on rum and cigars
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[October 15, 2016]
By Matt Spetalnick and Sarah Marsh
WASHINGTON/HAVANA (Reuters) - Americans
traveling to Cuba will be allowed to bring home more of the
communist-ruled island's coveted cigars and rum under new measures
announced by the U.S. government on Friday to further ease trade, travel
and financial restrictions that have been in place for decades.
Cuba welcomed the steps, part of President Barack Obama's effort to make
his historic opening to Cuba "irreversible" by the time he leaves office
in January, but said they did not go far enough.
The latest in a series of new rules since the former Cold War foes began
normalizing relations in 2014 will allow Cubans to buy certain U.S.
consumer goods online, open the door for Cuban pharmaceutical companies
to do business in the United States and let Cubans and Americans do
joint medical research.
For American travelers, the biggest change is the removal of limits on
the amount of rum and cigars they can pack in their luggage, strictly
for personal use.
"You can now celebrate with Cuban rum and Cuban cigars," U.S. National
Security Adviser Susan Rice quipped as she laid out the policy changes
in a speech to a Washington think tank.
U.S. law still bans general tourism to Cuba, but the administration has
used previous regulatory packages to make it easier for Americans to
visit the island under 12 officially authorized categories.
The latest measures are part of an executive order on Cuba through which
Obama seeks to sidestep the Republican-controlled Congress, which has
resisted his call to lift Washington's economic embargo after more than
Republican critics say Obama is making too many concessions to Cuba for
too little in return, especially on human rights issues. "After two
years of President Obama's Cuba policy, the Castro regime has made out
like bandits," said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American lawmaker
The steps allow Cuban pharmaceutical companies to apply for U.S.
regulatory approval, let U.S. firms improve Cuban infrastructure for
humanitarian purposes and authorize them to provide safety-related
aircraft services in Cuba, where U.S. airlines are beginning regularly
Also under the new rules, after docking in Cuba, some foreign ships
carrying certain cargo will be permitted to travel directly to U.S.
ports to load or unload freight. Until now, such vessels have been
required to wait 180 days, a restriction that Cuban officials say
hinders their import export trade.
Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's chief of U.S. affairs, told
a news conference in Havana the measures were "positive but of a very
MAKING THE OPENING "IRREVERSIBLE"
"Today, I approved a Presidential Policy Directive that takes another
major step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with Cuba,"
Obama said in a statement.
Less than a month before the Nov. 8 presidential election, Obama said
his goal was to "make our opening to Cuba irreversible."
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Cuban cigars for sale are displayed at a hotel in Havana, Cuba
October 14, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
The latest package, the administration's sixth, is likely to be the
“last significant tranche of changes” during Obama’s tenure, said a
senior official, who asked not to be named.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton backs the policy of
rapprochement with Havana. Republican Donald Trump has vowed to roll
back Obama’s executive actions.
Vidal criticized Obama's directive for making it clear the U.S.
aimed to "promote change in Cuba's economic, political and social
system", failing to respect its sovereignty.
In March, Obama made the first visit to Havana by a U.S. president
in 88 years. His trip was made possible by his breakthrough
agreement with Cuban President Raul Castro in December 2014 to cast
aside decades of hostility that began soon after Cuba's 1959
Since the opening, Obama has repeatedly used his executive powers to
relax trade and travel restrictions, while pushing Cuba to
accelerate market-style reforms and boost political and economic
"The changes announced to Cuba regulations are, by definition,
significant because they are new," said John Kavulich, president of
the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "Whether they will be
relevant depends upon the government of Cuba’s willingness to permit
United States companies and institutions to engage."
“This new directive consolidates and builds upon the changes we've
already made," Obama said. He added, however, that “challenges
remain – and very real differences between our governments persist
on issues of democracy and human rights.”
At the same time, the U.S. embargo against Cuba has remained in
place, a major irritant in relations. Only Congress can lift the
embargo, and the Republican leadership is not expected to allow such
a move anytime soon.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Ayesha Rascoe and Patricia
Zengerle in Washington; Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by W Simon,
David Gregorio and Grant McCool)
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