What's included in latest easing of Cuban business, travel restrictions?

New regulations which release some of the restrictions on business travel and investment have been defended as advancing both American and Cuban interests in the region, but some restrictions still remain.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
A man pushes a cart loaded with his belongings as he arrives from the US at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Friday. Even as the US moved on Friday to ease travel and other restrictions to Cuba, Americans will still not be allowed to go to the Communist nation for 'tourist activities,' a US official said. Speaking to reporters, senior Obama administration officials said such travel remains prohibited even as the regulations expand to allow family members to travel alongside authorized travelers for a wider variety of activities.

Over time, money transfers, online education classes, and even the sending of a simple package home to Cuba will become much more simple thanks to new rules released by the US Treasury and Commerce Departments, intended to come into effect on Monday. Now companies can establish subsidiaries or joint ventures, and open businesses in Cuba. The adjustments also enable telecommunications and internet services between the two countries.

These new regulations, which release some of the restrictions on business travel and investment, have been defended as advancing both American and Cuban interests in the region. But only Congress has the ability to lift the economic embargo, and it may not yet do so while under Republican control. Some Democrats are also reluctant about easing the tension between the two nations.

"A stronger, more open US-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike," US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement.

"By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba," he said.

The latest policy changes from the White House come at a time when Pope Francis prepares to arrive in Havana this weekend. It is one of his first stops on a nine-day tour of both Cuba and the United States, and analysts are looking closely, expecting him to talk both about human rights and religious freedom. The Vatican has been long in opposition to the US embargo against the tiny island nation.

“It is an occasion to ask for more openness,” the Rev. Jorge Cela, who oversaw the Jesuit religious order in Cuba from 2010 to 2012, told The New York Times. “The relationship is not easy.”

General tourism is still not allowed, despite the policy changes. Critics on the Cuban side are concerned that while these new implementations will allow for a freer exchange of goods and ideas between the US and Cuba, they will only end up benefiting the Castro government, which maintains its hold on power.

Fidel Castro transferred presidential powers to his brother Raúl Castro in 2006, but remains a prominent figurehead. President Raúl Castro's government has been fully supportive of President Obama’s efforts to normalize the relationship between the two countries, but has also favored the embargo lifting completely.

US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told Reuters that the changes "have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across [Cuba]."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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