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Historic agreement expands visiting rights to Cuba — and more

In a historic move, President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that the United States will begin talks with Cuba on normalizing relations after five decades and re-open an embassy in Havana.

The announcement included Cuba releasing USAID worker Alan Gross and a CIA agent who had been jailed in Cuba for nearly 20 years. Meanwhile, the U.S. released three Cuban spies imprisoned in Florida.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to grant Americans unrestricted rights to visit family in Cuba and send money. It is one of hundreds of promises PolitiFact has tracked on our Obamameter.

In April 2009, Obama announced that he had taken steps to increase remittances and make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba to see relatives. We gave Obama a Promise Kept for those key developments at the time, but his latest announcement takes that a step further.

Obama’s recent announcement increases the allowable amount of non-family remittances from $500 to $2,000 per quarter to any Cuban national, with the exception of Cuba government officials or communist party officials. Also, remittances for humanitarian projects and development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license. Remittance forwarders will also no longer be required to hold a specific license.

In 2009, Obama made it easier for family members to travel; in 2011 he expanded travel in several other categories, including for educational, cultural or religious reasons and for journalists.

With the more recent announcement, the White House said it will expand travel under the licenses for the 12 existing categories. (However, it will remain illegal for tourists to travel to Cuba because it is banned in federal law.) The change also means that Americans can use their credit cards in Cuba and bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

“We are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba,” Obama said. “This is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement. With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba.”

Under the new policy, all categories will have general licenses which means people won’t have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government. The .U.S. Treasury will release more details in the coming weeks.

“The Administration is signaling that it wants more of these visits approved,” Boston University Professor Paul Hare told PolitiFact. “But , that said, the prices of these visits are still high, and the control of where people stay and what they see will still be in place. … But permission for the use of U.S. credit cards and U.S. bank arrangements in Cuba will make it much easier for NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), universities, etc. to run fuller programs in Cuba and for visitors to spend more beyond the cost of their formal visit arrangements.”

Obama’s actions — increasing the amount of remittances and making it easier to travel to Cuba -- mean that this remains Promise Kept.

Highlights of Obama’s U.S.-Cuba regulations

In announcing this week that the U.S. and Cuba would resume diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, President Barack Obama eased restrictions on a host of activities that include travel to Cuba, use of credit cards in Cuba, remittances, to name a few. Below, some key changes in U.S.-Cuba regulations:

▪ Increases the allowable amount of non-family remittances from $500 to $2,000 per quarter to any Cuban national, with the exception of Cuba government officials or communist party officials.

▪ Remittances for humanitarian projects and development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.

▪ Remittance forwarders will also no longer be required to hold a specific license.

▪ Expands travel under licenses for 12 existing categories. (However, it will remain illegal for tourists to travel to Cuba because it is banned in federal law.) All categories will have general licenses which means people won’t have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government. The U.S. Treasury will release more details in coming weeks.

▪ Americans can use their credit cards in Cuba and bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

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