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Decades of U.S. trade and travel restrictions on Cuba will come to an end on Friday, the government announced in the first tangible step towards restoring diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana.

New rules will allow Americans to travel to the country without a license – as long as they go for approved reasons – and use their U.S. credit or debit cards, the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Treasury said in a statement.

Cubans living in the U.S. will also have their quarterly remittances increased from $500 to $2,000 per quarter, allowing them to send home more money.

Officials said approved reasons for travel include business or family visits, and that tourism from the U.S. to Cuba was still prohibited by Congress.

Travel agents and airlines will be authorized to provide services without needing a specific permit under the new rules. That means U.S. airlines could soon be free to launch normal scheduled flights to Cuba.

“Today’s announcement takes us one step closer to replacing out of date policies that were not working and puts in place a policy that helps promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people," Treasury secretary Jacob Lew said in a news release.

"Cuba has real potential for economic growth and by increasing travel, commerce, communications, and private business development between the United States and Cuba, the United States can help the Cuban people determine their own future.”

However, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called the new rules “a windfall for the Castro regime” and said the recent deal “is enriching a tyrant and his regime at the expense of U.S. national interests and the Cuban people."


- Alastair Jamieson and Andrea Mitchell