The Obama administration is hoping to chip away at the embargo before the president leaves office and is working on further loosening of trade and travel restrictions beyond those announced Friday, officials have said.
The new regulations are aimed at travel, telecommunications, Internet-based services, business operations, banking and remittances, and allow US companies to establish a presence in Cuba.
Veteran diplomat Jose Cabanas on Thursday became Cuba’s first ambassador to the United States in 54 years, thanks to the recent rapprochement between the former Cold War foes.
The new measures were announced just one day after the Cuban government’s named it first ambassador to Washington after a 54-year suspension of diplomatic relations, and comes ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the island this weekend.
But while American business might embrace these new efforts, the regulations exceeded the expectations of those in Cuba, said John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc.
The new rules say they will help “facilitate engagement between the American and Cuba people; the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and independent activity generated by Cuba’s private sector”. “Interesting that they’re choosing it to coincide with the pope’s visit”, said Felice Gorordo, co-founder of the Cuban-American group Roots of Hope.
The White House issued regulations easing restrictions on American companies seeking to do business in Cuba in the latest action to weaken the USA trade embargo.
In January, he eased economic restrictions on Cuba in potentially the most dramatic manner since relations between the countries broke down after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959 and the subsequent Bay of Pigs invasion and Cuban missile crisis. For the same reasons that President Obama is making telecom a pillar of his Cuba policy, then, the Cuban government has an interest in making sure that it stays firmly in control of any new telecommunications infrastructure that might be built in the coming years.
Jacob J. Lew, the Treasury secretary, said the rules could lead to “constructive change for the Cuban people”.
The UN General Assembly has voted each year since 1982 to approve a resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo against Cuba, which has been in place since 1960. “They see these regulatory changes as necessary tools to provide crucial traction to their initiatives, and look forward to a full lifting of sanctions in our embargo policy”. Mobile Internet from the state-run wireless carrier, ETESCA, costs $2 an hour – about 10 percent of what a typical Cuban government official makes every month.
In addition to building on commercial enterprises, the changes “have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across the country”, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said.
The regulations allow companies handling agricultural commodities and other authorized exports to have offices, retail outlets and warehouses in Cuba.
Other changes unveiled include, allowing transportation and delivery companies to do business with the country, and educational institutions in both countries to expand exchange programs and joint non-commercial academic research projects.