In historic news on Wednesday, the United States and Cuba are to start talks on normalizing relations between the two countries. The congressional embargo remains in place,but President Obama in a noon addressed announced major changes in travel and business policies, saying that increased commerce was good for both Americans and Cubans.
“We should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help," he said.
What will it mean to ordinary Americans and companies wanting to do business in Cuba? Here are some key changes:
Secretary of State John Kerry will begin discussions with Cuba on re-establishing diplomatic relations that broke off in January 1961. In the coming months, the United States will open an embassy in Havana and initiate high-level exchanges between the two governments.
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Tourist travel to Cuba is still banned, but restrictions will be eased in 12 categories: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and some intergovernmental organizations; journalists; professional research and meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations and research and educational institutes; export or import of information; and export transactions that may be considered under existing regulations. Only Congress can lift the ban on tourist travel.
Americans will be able to send $2,000 a quarter to Cuba, up from $500. Donations to humanitarian projects, to support Cubans and for the development of private businesses will not longer require a specific license.
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Travelers to Cuba will be able to bring back Cuban cigars for personal use. Overall, Americans will be allowed $400 worth of goods, $100 for tobacco and alcohol. They will be able to use U.S. credit and debit cards while traveling to Cuba.
To help build the private sector in Cuba, the sale of commercial goods and services will be eased to include agricultural equipment for small farmers, building materials for private residences, and goods for use by Cuban entrepreneurs. U.S. institutions will be able to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions
Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish infrastructure in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and Internet services. Cuba has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates at 5 percent. Telecommunications services are limited and expensive.