US considers easing Cuba travel limits
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, in a test of the Castro regime’s appetite for reform, is considering easing travel restrictions to Cuba, US and congressional officials said yesterday.
The move would leave intact the nearly 50-year-old embargo against the communist regime but would expand opportunities for American students, educators, and researchers to visit Cuba, the officials said. The discussions to ease restrictions follow the release last month of the first batch of political prisoners Havana had pledged to free.
President Obama has said he wants to reach out to Cuba and promote democracy there by easing travel and financial restrictions. But he has also said there must be political or economic reforms before steps are taken to ease Cuba’s isolation.
A decision could be announced before the end of next week. However, the officials cautioned that political considerations could hold up a decision, possibly until after November’s midterm congressional elections. They spoke on condition of anonymity because internal deliberations continue on the scope and scale of the changes.
Some in Congress have voiced opposition to a further easing in the restrictions, which Obama loosened last year to allow Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to relatives on the island. The new changes would extend some of those provisions to a broader group of Americans and could expand direct flights to Cuba, the officials said.
Details of the possible revisions were first reported by the Miami Herald.
The White House and State Department declined to comment on specifics of the changes.
Mark Toner, a spokesman for the State Department, noted that the Obama administration had contacts with Cuba on immigration, postal service between the two countries, and the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
Any effort to ease the embargo against Cuba would be fiercely opposed by lawmakers of both parties, both on Capitol Hill and across the United States, who warn that it would weaken attempts to promote a fundamental change in Havana.
But a growing number of legislators see Cuba as a lucrative market for US farm exports and support dropping some trade restrictions.