Obama to ease Cuba restrictions

WASHINGTON –President Barrack Obama plans to abandon longstanding restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba, an administration official has said, fulfilling a campaign promise in a pivotal swing state and signalling a possible warming of relations with the Castro government.

The White House is expected to announce the action before Mr. Obama travels to Trinidad and Tobago for a meeting on April 17 of Latin American and Caribbean leaders.

The House and Senate are considering legislation that would go even further than the administration and allow all Americans unlimited travel to Cuba.

While precise details of the plan are still being worked out, Mr. Obama is not expected to call for the lifting of the trade embargo on Cuba, which would require Congressional approval, the administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the policy change has not been formally announced.

Cuba analysts said that they did not expect any new diplomatic initiatives toward the island nation. ‘It’s a humanitarian step, but it doesn’t get at the root of our foreign policy problem with Cuba because we don’t have full contact,’ said Philip Peters, a Cuba specialist and vice president at the Lexington Institute, a policy research center.

Cuban-Americans are now permitted to travel once a year to the island to visit close relatives. The Treasury Department also issues licenses to travel to Cuba for specific purposes, including academic research.

During the presidential campaign, aides to Mr. Obama called President George W. Bush‘s policy toward Cuba a ‘humanitarian and strategic blunder.’

Mr. Obama promised changes, including a lifting of all travel restrictions for those with relatives in Cuba and an end to limits on the money Americans could send their families on the island.

‘I will immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances to the island,’ Mr. Obama said in Miami last May. ‘It’s time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It’s time to let Cuban-American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime.’

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. also signalled the change last week on a trip to Costa Rica and Chile. ‘Over the next decade and sooner there is likely to be, and needs to be, changes in the relationship between Cuba and the United States,’ he said.

The decision to lift the ban on family travel and remittances was first reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Web site Friday.

Support for such changes has been growing in the United States and across Latin America.

A new generation of Cuban-American leaders have rejected hard-line positions in favour of greater engagement. Latin American leaders have expressed almost unanimous support for an end to the United States trade embargo, which dates from the early 1960s.

Raúl Castro, who succeeded his ailing older brother, Fidel, became president of Cuba over a year ago.

He has made some changes, including loosening rules that prohibit most Cubans from buying cellphones, but Cubans have complained that he has done little to improve the quality of their daily lives.

In Miami, reaction to the Obama administration’s plan reflected both the decades-old approach to Cuba policy and its evolution more recently as younger Cubans have diluted the hard-line stance of their elders.