White House Eases Restrictions on Cuba Travel, Transactions

The White House announced Tuesday that it plans to allow “people to people” educational travel to Cuba, permit the country’s citizens to earn salaries in the U.S. and make it easier to use American currency in financial transactions with Cuba.

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"We found ways consistent with the law to open up space for further travel and commercial engagement, in part because we were also able to demonstrate ways that it benefits the Cuban people," said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes in a call with reporters.

The lifting of such restrictions come roughly a week before President Barack Obama is scheduled to travel to Cuba next week—the first sitting American president to visit that nation in nearly 90 years.

Related: American Flag Flies at Embassy in Cuba for First Time Since 1961

“Today’s steps build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial freedoms, and chart a new course in U.S.-Cuba relations,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a statement.

The steps follow the president’s call to normalize relations and economic ties between the two countries after decades of Cold War hostilities. The U.S. severed diplomatic relations with the communist island country in 1961.

In December 2014, Obama announced that the U.S. was ending an "outdated approach" of isolating Cuba, and in May the U.S. dropped Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

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In July, Cuban officials inaugurated their embassy in Washington and, in August, the American flag was hoisted over the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.

Last month U.S. officials signed an aviation pact restoring scheduled airline service between the United States and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.

Rhodes reiterated the administration's call for an end to the U.S.-Cuba embargo, saying it's "the biggest impediment" to engagement that can help the Cuban people empower themselves.