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US eases restrictions
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New law eliminates limits trips and shipment of remittances.

President Barack Obama signs bill to ease limits on travel and remittances, overturning stringent rules set by previous administration.

US President Barack Obama signed a spending bill into law on March 11 that will ease restrictions for Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba and send money to family members there, reversing tight limits set by previous President George W. Bush (2001-2009).

A day earlier, the US Senate had approved the bill, which already had approval in the House of Representatives to cut limits on how long relatives can visit family members in Cuba and how often they can visit.

The new legislation would allow family members to visit their relatives in Cuba, on which the US has maintained a nearly five-decade economic embargo, once a year, for an unlimited amount of time up from one 14-day visit once every three years under the restrictions set by the Bush government in 2004. The definition of family member was also broadened to include aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, instead of just immediate family members.

The bill also relaxed visa requirements for US businesspeople to travel to Cuba to sell certain goods that are not included in the embargo, such as food and medical supplies.

While the bill’s passage was well-received by some sectors, such as family members in Cuba, some said it fell short of easing relations between the two countries.

“While the current legislation is a worthy first step, it appears not to reflect this new regional reality and suffers from being too little and too late,” said Washington-based thinktank, the Council for Hemispheric Affairs in a recent statement titled, “Let Down On Cuba.” “It is unlikely to generate the much-needed transformative approach that Washington needs in order to regain international support for its policies.”

The bill was signed a month ahead of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in Tobago, where Obama is expected to try to improve ties with Latin America and the Caribbean, which had been strained or neglected during the Bush government.
Ministers from the region, as well as Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have asked Obama to completely knock down the US embargo on Cuba.
—Latinamerica Press.

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