WASHINGTON D.C., January 16, 2015 (AMG) — According to U.S. officials, American tourists in Cuba will be able to take advantage of several changes to U.S.-Cuban travel and trade regulations starting today. These specific changes come in the wake of recent announcements by both the U.S. and Cuban governments favouring diplomatic and economic re-engagement after more than 50 years of hostility.
Effective January 16, visitors to Cuba from the U.S. will finally be able to utilize credit and debit cards in the Caribbean nation, without subjection to spending limits. And in a move that many argue will effectively end the United States’ ban on Cuban cigars, American tourists will now be free to bring up to $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco home after trips to Cuba.
U.S. firms and investors will also find it easier to invest in Cuban small businesses and agricultural operations thanks to several regulatory changes. Further, in a move that may help to boost Cuba’s low internet connectivity rate, American telecommunications conglomerates will have easier access to the Cuban marketplace, in addition to other changes that will make it easier for U.S. firms to sell smartphones and certain computer software in Cuba.
Though a formal ban on ordinary tourism to Cuba will remain despite Friday’s changes, the new regulatory alterations do seriously undermine restrictions on U.S. travel there. As long as American citizens cite one or more of the U.S. government’s dozen new pre-approved reasons for travel to Cuba, they can now make trips to the island nation without official permission. This change is sure to fuel Cuba’s growing tourism industry by increasing the annual number of American visitors to Cuba, which last year stood at around 170,000 – each of which had to be specifically approved for travel to Cuba by the U.S. government.[toggles style=”accordion”][toggle title=”Approved categories for travel of US citizens to Cuba”]1. Family visits
2. Official government business
3. Journalistic activity
4. Professional research or meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, athletic competitions, exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Activities for private foundations or research institutes
11. Exportation, importation or transmission of information
12. Certain authorized export transactions[/toggle][/toggles]
Importantly, the U.S.’s overall trade embargo on Cuba will remain despite these marginal changes, as only Congress can fully end the fifty-year-old policy through a vote. And with right-wing legislators such as Senator Marco Rubio publicly and vehemently condemning President Obama’s recent moves toward limited Cuban re-engagement, such a development seems unlikely.
Even so, today’s changes will make it easier for several powerful American special interests -most notably finance and telecommunications- to do business in Cuba.