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Obama To Ease Limits On Cuba Travel, Remittances

By The Associated Press

President Obama directed his administration on Monday to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban-Americans to family in Cuba, and to take other steps to ease U.S. restrictions on the island, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The formal announcement was being made at the White House on Monday afternoon, during presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs' daily briefing with reporters. The official spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the president's announcement.

With the changes, Obama aims to create new space for the Cuban people in their quest for political freedom and a democratic government, in part by making them less dependent on the Castro regime, the official said.

Other steps taken Monday include allowing gift parcels to be sent to Cuba, and issuing licenses to increase communications among and to the Cuban people. About 1.5 million Americans have relatives in Cuba.

Obama had promised to take these steps as a presidential candidate. It has been known for more than a week that he would announce them in advance of this week's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

"There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban-Americans," Obama said in a campaign speech last May in Miami, the heart of the U.S. Cuban-American community. "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."

Sending money to senior government officials and Communist Party members remains prohibited. Restrictions imposed by the Bush administration had limited Cuban travel by Americans to just two weeks every three years. Visits also were confined to immediate family members.

Other steps taken Monday include expanding the things allowed in gift parcels being sent to Cuba, such as clothes, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing gear and other personal necessities. The administration also will begin issuing licenses to allow companies to provide cell and television services to people on the island, and to allow family members to pay for relatives in Cuba to get those services, the official said.

Also in that Miami speech nearly a year ago, Obama promised to depart from what he said had been the path of previous politicians on Cuba policy — "they come down to Miami, they talk tough, they go back to Washington, and nothing changes in Cuba."

"Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy," he said then. "This is the terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century — of elections that are anything but free or fair; of dissidents locked away in dark prison cells for the crime of speaking the truth. I won't stand for this injustice, you won't stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba."

He also promised to engage in direct diplomacy with Cuba, "without preconditions," but with "careful preparation" and "a clear agenda."

Some lawmakers, backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba, are advocating wider revisions in the trade and travel bans imposed after Fidel Castro took power in Havana in 1959.

But Obama is keeping the decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in place, arguing that that policy provides leverage to pressure the regime to free all political prisoners as one step toward normalized relations with the U.S.

This program aired on April 13, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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