By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, SEPT. 18, 2015, New York Times
The Obama administration on Friday announced wide-ranging changes to loosen travel, commerce and investment restrictions on Cuba, moving to fulfill President Obama’s goal of breaking down barriers between Washington and Havana even as the American embargo remains in place.
The rules will allow American companies to open locations and hire workers in Cuba, facilitate financial transactions between the nations, and remove limits on the amount of money that can be brought to the island nation. They are to take effect on Monday on the eve of the visit to Washington by Pope Francis, a proponent of the reconciliation between the United States and Cuba who quietly helped broker the agreement last year between Mr. Obama and President Raùl Castro to forge it.
Jacob J. Lew, the Treasury secretary, said the rules could lead to “constructive change for the Cuban people.”
“A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike,” Mr. 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.”
They also hold out the prospect of new business opportunities for American companies in Cuba, which some observers said were intended to increase pressure on Havana to take corresponding action to open its economy.
The White House is working to show momentum in the rapprochement with Cuba before Dec. 17, the one-year anniversary of when it was announced.
“In addition to expanding our commercial engagement with the Cuban people, these additional adjustments have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across the country,” Penny Pritzker, the secretary of commerce, said in a statement.
American corporations have been working behind the scenes with the Obama administration for months to bring about the normalization the president promised, which began with an initial set of regulatory changes in January. But the new rules exceeded the expectations of some business leaders, who said they had sent a clear message to Cuba that it must do more to hold up its end of the process.
“They’ve gone farther at one time than most anyone expected,” said John S. Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “It’s in keeping with President Obama’s strategy, agree or disagree, which is, ‘I’m throwing the proverbial ball into the Cuban court.’ ”
In Havana, Mr. Kavulich added, the changes are “too much, too fast.”
The regulations will for the first time in decades allow United States firms to do business directly in Cuba, setting up subsidiaries or opening offices or warehouses there, and allowing Americans to have bank accounts and Cubans to maintain bank accounts outside of their country. Cruise ships will be able to travel between the United States and Cuba without making a stop in a third nation. And close relatives will be able to visit family members in Cuba for a wider array of purposes.
The rules will also allow American telecommunications and Internet companies to situate in Cuba and market their services there, as well as to import mobile applications made in Cuba for development in the United States.
The changes came as the diplomatic opening between Washington and Havana inched forward. On Thursday, Mr. Obama received credentials at the White House from the first Cuban ambassador to the United States since 1961. The envoy, José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, had been the chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington for three years.