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Changes to Cuban travel, gift rules now official

Posted on Friday, 09.04.09
Changes to Cuban travel, gift rules now official
The long-awaited changes to travel and gift rules to Cuba have finally
kicked in.

The federal rules regulating what gifts and how much cash can be sent to
Cuba finally became official Thursday, five months after
Barack Obama announced a loosening of restrictions amid great fanfare.

“It's about time!'' said Maria Brieva, owner of Machi Community
Services, which sends packages to Cuba. “It's hurricane season, and
people were beginning to get anxious.''

In April, Obama lifted caps on Cuban-American travel to the island and
on the money that can be sent to relatives as part of a broader campaign
to warm long-chilled relations between the two nations. The Cuban
government welcomed the changes when they were announced, but did not
respond with any notable changes on the island.

The written regulations that make Obama's changes official had not been
published in the federal register until now.

That left people who were eager to send money and gifts in limbo,
because agencies such as Western Union and shipping companies hadn't
received any legal notice of the change.

“When the president made that announcement, people were calling
continuously and showing up here with boxes,'' said Mambi International
Group owner Santiago Castro, president of the Association of Cuban
Travel Agencies. “We had to tell them no, because as far as we knew, we
still could not send things like clothes and shoes.''


The U.S. Department of Treasury and U.S. Commerce Department rules were
published in the Federal Register on Thursday.

The delay came because the rules were “not simple to write,'' and the
people charged with drafting them were also saddled with other
responsibilities, a senior administration official told The Miami Herald.

“This gets the U.S. government out of the business of regulating the
separation of Cuban families,'' said the official, who spoke on the
condition his name not be published, citing U.S. government policy.

The new rules also allow people to ship a wider pool of items to Cuba
and permit American companies to provide telecommunications services
there. They let Americans pay a Cuban's cell phone bill — as long as
the provider is a non-Cuban company.

People who are doing telcom and business in Cuba will be
able to travel freely to Cuba, a major change in U.S. rules.

“Part of what you have is removing the U.S. government as an impediment
to the kinds of activities people recognize the value of,'' the U.S.
official said. “The real question here now is the Cuban government.

“The Cuban government likes to blame the limited access to information
on limited bandwidth, and they blame that on the United States. After
these regulations, to the extent there is limited flow of information in
Cuba, it will be very clear that those limitations are coming from the
Cuban government.''

With the new rules:

• People with relatives on the island can travel to Cuba to visit a
broader range of relatives, with no limit on the number of their visits
or how long they stay. Their spending limit is increased to $180 a day.

• The items people can send to Cuba now include things like digital
cameras, personal computers, seeds, fishing equipment, TVs and radios.
(Before, packages were limited to and medicine.)

• The limit on the value of those packages is doubled to $800.

• U.S. companies can provide telecommunications between the United
States and Cuba, such as fiber optics, satellite radio and TV.

• The rules that prohibit cash and telecommunications gifts to senior
government and party officials remain.


“Now let's wait and see what the Cuban government allows in,'' Brieva
said. “I am dealing with two different countries with two different
sets of regulations. This says you can send in seeds, well, the Cuban
government does not let you send seeds.''

The Cuban-American National Foundation's Pepe Hernández said that the
new rules, although slow in coming, are welcome.

“This is extremely important for the people inside Cuba,'' he said.
“Cuban Americans are the ones with the resources and will and attitude
to help the Cuban people get some independence socially, in
communications, and economically from the Cuban regime.''

Changes to Cuban travel, gift rules now official – Americas – (4 September 2009)

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