Cuba: US easing of travel rules 'positive but limited'

People wait for transport along a highway in San Cristobal, Cuba on 4 January 2011 Cuba is still off-limits for American tourists

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Moves by US President Barack Obama to ease restrictions on US citizens travelling to Cuba are positive but not enough, the Havana government has said.

The Cuban authorities said the measures kept the decades-old embargo intact and did not signal any major changes in US policy towards the island.

On Friday, Mr Obama issued an executive order loosening some rules on travel and sending remittances to Cuba.

He said he believed the new rules would support Cuban civil society.

On Sunday, the Cuban authorities gave their first official reaction to Mr Obama's announcement.

"Although the measures are positive... they have a very limited reach and do not change US policy against Cuba," a foreign ministry statement said.

The changes, the statement said, were an expression of the failed policy of the US towards Cuba.

"These measures confirm that there is no will to change the policy of blockade and destabilisation against Cuba," the authorities said, referring to the US trade embargo.

"If there exists a real interest in widening and facilitating contacts between our peoples, the United States should lift the blockade and eliminate the restrictions that make Cuba the only country in the world to which North Americans cannot travel."

Announcing the changes on Friday, the White House said they were aimed at developing "people-to-people" contacts through more academic, cultural and religious exchanges.

The modified rules will, among other things:

  • Allow religious organisations to sponsor religious travel to Cuba under a general licence
  • Allow accredited institutions of higher education to sponsor travel to Cuba
  • Allow any US person to send remittances (up to $500 per quarter) to non-family members in Cuba to support private economic activity
  • Allow remittances to be sent to religious institutions in Cuba in support of religious activities
  • Allow US airports to apply to provide services to licensed charters.

In April 2009, President Obama ordered curbs on remittances and travel by Cuban-Americans visiting family members on the island to be relaxed, and there has been a rapid expansion of cultural and artistic exchanges.

The latest changes do not require congressional approval, but the US Congress would have to authorise the ending of the embargo.

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