Cuba travel promoters gear up
By William Gibson September 2, 2010 12:19 PM
The unofficial word in Washington is that the Obama administration plans to relax limits on travel to Cuba for professional, educational and artistic purposes.
Some travel promoters are gearing up to handle potentially hundreds of thousands more visits.
Cuba Education Tours, a Canadian outfit, is urging Americans to start booking trips before the anticipated rules change.
“There is no need to wait for changes from Washington and be left out on account of overbooked tours and too few rooms and services,” the group says in an e-mail message touting their licensed services.
The tour group promotes a Boomers Whole Cuba Tour, a Havana International Jazz Festival Tour, a New Years Teachers Introduction to Cuba Tour and others detailed at http://CubaFriends.com/.
“Cubans are eager to meet you and make friends with their northern cousins,” says Marcel Hatch, education director for the group.
Canadians have long traveled to Cuba without restraint.
The administration has not announced the change, but sources say it will come later this year, perhaps after the mid-term elections in November.
The new rules would not undo the U.S. embargo, nor would they open the floodgates to American tourists. They would ease restrictions on visas for selected purposes -- business, educational or artistic -- that were imposed by former President George W. Bush.
Essentially, U.S. officials would return to the policy of the Bill Clinton administration, which encouraged people-to-people encounters with Cubans.
Most Cuban-American leaders in South Florida support limits on travel to try to isolate Cuba and deprive the Castro regime of tourism dollars. But many in Congress are pressing to remove the travel ban for all Americans, saying more contact and communication would encourage reforms in Cuba.
Obama last year fulfilled his campaign promise to allow Cuban-Americans to visit their families and to send unlimited amounts of money to Cuba.
Relaxed rules that make it easier for special groups to visit the island is the next incremental step toward closer engagement with Florida’s estranged neighbor.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
From Deirdre Walsh, CNN Congressional Producer
Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration is preparing to announce new rules allowing some travel to Cuba, along with an expanded ability for Americans to send economic assistance, a senior U.S. official and congressional sources said Wednesday.
According to two congressional aides briefed informally on the plans, the administration is expected to announce "soon" that it will essentially reinstate measures that were in place under the Clinton administration.
Both aides stressed that the administration is still working through the details and legal language.
"It's a return to Clinton, plus some," one aide said, noting that President George W. Bush tightened restrictions on travel and cultural exchanges.
The central component of the policy involves "people to people" exchanges that would allow academics, corporations, humanitarian groups and athletic teams to travel to Cuba. The administration is not lifting tourist travel limits or the strict trade restrictions currently in place but would promote cultural exchanges and programs with universities or allow U.S. farms to send assistance to Cuban farmers as part of the new rules.
One of the aides who supports the changes stressed that the goal is to allow travel for people to help Cubans build their own economy and culture. The policy is "to go down there, give a message of hope, to help the Cuban people forge their own future as they want, not necessarily as the way another government wants."
In addition, the administration is planning to expand the policy it announced last year that allowed Cuban-Americans to send "remittances" or economic support to family members in Cuba. The new regulations would allow any U.S. citizen, as well as universities, churches and businesses, to send money or sponsor a partner in Cuba. There would be a cap on the amount of money that could be sent.
The new policy would make it easier for universities, sports teams and businesses to set up exchanges. The State Department would shift its current policy, which now denies visas for Cubans to travel to the U.S., to one that gives a "presumption of approval" unless a review discovers a problem with the request.
Although the administration cannot change current travel restrictions without congressional approval, it does have the authority to loosen visa rules
The congressional aides expected the administration to unveil the changes through a statement by the president or the secretary of state, along with text of the new regulations.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that although he had nothing to announce, "our overarching goal here is to encourage a more open environment in Cuba and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. And, consistent with that objective, we've promoted measures to encourage the free flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people."
Likewise, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton gave no details in response to reporters' questions Tuesday but added, "the president is going to continue to do things that are in the best interest of the United States and that help to create a more democratic environment and expand freedoms for the Cuban people."
CNN Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.
U.S. preparing to ease travel restrictions to Cuba
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010; A02
The White House is preparing measures that would expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and send money there, congressional and Obama administration officials said Tuesday.
The measures would make it easier for Americans to get U.S. government licenses for cultural, educational and sports exchanges, according to congressional aides briefed on the new policy. They would not end the longtime economic embargo or the ban on U.S. tourists visiting the island.
The changes would restore a policy from the Bill Clinton administration that encouraged "people-to-people" contacts with residents of the Communist-ruled nation, officials said. Such visits were limited by the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 and later restricted further by the George W. Bush administration.
"These are not revolutionary," one congressional staff member said of the changes. "They're not going to cause political blowback, because we did all this stuff before." Like other officials, the staffer spoke on the condition of anonymity because the new policy has not yet been announced.
Others predicted that the changes would stir opposition. Although the measures do not need congressional approval, "it would be very poor judgment on [the White House's] part not to be responsible to the Congress . . . in giving them the proper heads-up. This is an election year. Everything is toxic," said a senior GOP aide familiar with the issue, who said the administration has not briefed key Republicans.
Since the stricter regulations on travel took effect in 2004, U.S. outreach to the Cuban people has largely been channeled through official democracy programs.
Those efforts have had limited results, in part because "the covert political nature of these programs has put at risk not only U.S. operatives, but also their beneficiaries" in Cuba, according to a recent report by the U.S.-Cuba Relations Project of the Brookings Institution. Andy Gomez, a University of Miami professor and a report author, said the expansion of people-to-people programs would come at a critical time, coinciding with a growth in civil-society groups, including a lively bloggers' community, in economically strapped Cuba.
"The time is ripe for us to build bridges with the Cuban people," he said.
But Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a prominent Cuban American legislator, said the timing was wrong. "Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations," he said in a statement.
Several people familiar with the new measures said they could be made public within days or weeks. They are undergoing final scrutiny but have been discussed at White House principals' meetings, according to those interviewed.
The measures will provide more leeway for Americans who are not of Cuban descent to send donations. Also being discussed is an expansion of telecommunication links, officials said.
President Obama last year loosened restrictions on Cuban Americans' visits and remittances to the island. Relations between Washington and Havana, however, have been rocky. Among the irritants is the detention of Alan P. Gross, a USAID contractor being held without charge in Havana since December. Gross had been bringing computer gear into the country secretly.
Cuban authorities' announcement last month that they would free 52 political prisoners has provided an opening for the new U.S. measures, analysts said, although the administration has been discussing the changes for months.
"It's a little easier to do it, given the political prisoners' release. But I think they were going to do it anyway," said Julia Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.
US plans more contacts with Cuba
(AFP) – 2 hours ago
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's administration will soon announce steps to increase contacts between the US and Cuban peoples, a senior administration official said.
The plans come after Washington welcomed a deal last month in which Cuba agreed to free 52 of 75 dissidents sentenced in 2003 to prison terms of up to 28 years, but there was no sign of an easing of the decades-old US trade embargo.
"We are reviewing ways of increasing people-to-people contact with Cuba. Additional steps will be announced soon," a senior US official told AFP when asked whether Washington will ease restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Obama administration is seeking to expand opportunities for Americans to travel to communist Cuba, while leaving the US embargo in place.
It wants to loosen restrictions on travel by academic, religious and cultural groups that were imposed by president George W. Bush's administration and return to the "people-to-people policies" followed under president Bill Clinton, it said.
The Obama administration last year lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba, but it has urged Havana to free political prisoners and improve political freedoms.
The administration last year also resumed talks on migration with Cuba that had been conducted every two years until Bush suspended them in 2003.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration is getting ready to relax travel restrictions to Cuba for some Americans, without lifting the trade embargo and a ban on U.S. tourism to the island, a congressional aide said on Tuesday.
The small steps would make it easier for groups of Americans to once again go to the Communist island as part of academic, cultural or religious exchanges, as thousands of them did during the Clinton administration, the aide told Reuters.
Officials are trying to finish regulations so the changes can be announced before Congress returns in mid-September — well before November 2 midterm elections, said the aide who was briefed on the plans but asked not to be named.
Some Cuban-American lawmakers are adamantly opposed to improving U.S. ties with Communist Cuba, which have been in the diplomatic deep freeze most of the time since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. He has been succeeded as president by his brother Raul, who has agreed to free some political prisoners.
Other U.S. lawmakers, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, have urged the U.S. government to open up more to Cuba. Several bills in Congress would promote more trade and travel there.
Restrictions on money transfers may also be eased, making it easier for Americans to donate cash to Cuban organizations such as churches or community groups, the aide said.
U.S. sanctions against Cuba are aimed at encouraging democratic reform in the one-party state. Critics of the policy say they have failed to do so in almost 50 years in effect.
President Barack Obama has said he wants to “recast” ties with Cuba, and last year renewed outreach efforts to the island. He eased limits on travel by separated family members and cash remittances by Cuban-Americans to their relatives.
U.S. advocates for better ties with Cuba, which include business and pro-democracy groups, are expecting the Obama administration to go further now, especially in the wake of Cuba’s recent decision to free 52 jailed dissidents.
“There will be a huge emphasis on people-to-people travel. That is (the Obama administration’s) whole mantra. That’s what they’re talking about,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of Center for Democracy in the Americas, a non-profit group in Washington that opposes sanctions against Cuba.
Cuba plans to drill for oil in its Gulf of Mexico waters and U.S. companies would be left out if deposits are found and the trade embargo is not lifted, she said.
Jake Colvin, vice president at the National Foreign Trade Council, said the new policy could possibly increase the number of airports from which U.S. citizens can travel to Cuba.
White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said there was nothing new to announce on Cuba policy, “but the president is going to continue to do things that are in the best interest of the United States and that help to create a more democratic environment and expand freedoms for the Cuban people.”
Obama will visit Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community in the United States, on Wednesday for a political fund-raiser.
Under the expected changes, the law banning U.S. travel to Cuba would not be scrapped, but more licenses for exceptions to this ban would be issued on a case-by-case basis to groups of Americans by the U.S. Treasury Department, the aide said.
This was common under President Bill Clinton, but his successor President George W. Bush reversed the policy and such group travel requests were routinely denied.
(Additional reporting by Doug Palmer, Patricia Zengerle and David Alexander, editing by Anthony Boadle)
U.S. Reaffirms Support for Democracy in Cuba
WASHINGTON – The United States government reaffirmed Monday its support for the Cuban people determining their own destiny, but avoided answering requests that the White House respond to the freeing of political prisoners in Cuba with an easing of its policies toward that country.
“We will continue pursuing policies that advance the national interests of the United States, and we support the desire of the Cuban people to freely determine the future of their country,” National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer told Efe.
Nonetheless, the White House neither confirmed nor denied news reports of a possible liberalization of trips to Cuba, particularly those of a cultural or academic nature.
A coalition of civic, business and academic groups, including Amnesty International, has recently urged that President Barack Obama respond to the gesture of the Raul Castro government, which has begun releasing 52 political prisoners.
“The Havana government has now set free a number of political prisoners and plans to release others. If the U.S. government makes it easier to travel there, it would at any rate be a relatively small step,” Wayne Smith, who headed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1979-1982, told Efe Monday.
“Cubans have their problems but they’re moving forward – why don’t we? The rest of the hemisphere’s countries have full diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba – we’re the only ones isolated on that issue,” Smith said.
According to the Center of Democracy in the Americas, if Obama were to expand the categories of “legitimate trips” to Cuba, he would give “a clear signal that he wants to change the policy,” although only Congress can eliminate all the restrictions on travel to the island as well as the economic embargo Washington imposed in 1962.
Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both houses insist that the United States should not reward Havana for the human-rights violations on the communist-ruled island.
The subject is also being debated in the Democratic primary elections, which will choose a candidate to contest Republicans on Nov. 2 for an open seat in the Senate representing Florida.
Jeff Greene, one of the two Democratic hopefuls in the Aug. 24 primary, said Sunday that the nearly 50 years of efforts to isolate the Cuban regime has been a “failed policy” for the United States, and if he gets to the Senate, he’ll be looking at a “revision.”
Obama, who in 2009 liberalized rules for Cuban-Americans’ travel and remittances to the island, flies to Miami Beach this Wednesday to support the candidacy of Greene’s rival in the primaries, Rep. Kendrick Meek, who favors maintaining the economic embargo on Cuba. EFE
White House moves to ease travel restrictions to Cuba
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; 12:30 PM
The White House is preparing a package of measures that would expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and send money there, congressional and Obama administration officials said Tuesday.
The measures, which do not need congressional approval, would make it easier for Americans to get U.S. government licenses for cultural, educational and sports exchanges, according to congressional aides briefed on the new policy. The regulations would not end the current economic embargo or the ban on American tourists visiting the island.
The changes would largely restore a policy from the Clinton administration that encouraged "people-to-people" contacts with residents of the Communist-ruled nation, officials said. Such contacts were limited by the Helms-Burton legislation of 1996 and later tightened further by the George W. Bush administration.
"These are not revolutionary. They're not going to cause political blowback. Because we did all this stuff before" under Clinton, said one congressional staff member, who like other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the new policy has not yet been announced.
Still, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a prominent Cuban American legislator, expressed concern. "This is not the time to ease the pressure on the Castro regime," he said in a statement. "Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations."
Supporters argue that people-to-people programs are more effective than U.S. government efforts to promote democracy in Cuba, since it is illegal for Cubans to receive aid under many of the official U.S. programs.
Several people familiar with the new measures said they could be made public within weeks. They are undergoing final scrutiny but have already been discussed at White House principals' meetings, according to those interviewed.
The changes were first reported Tuesday by the New York Times.
Obama last year loosened restrictions on Cuban Americans' ability to visit and send remittances to the island, but the new steps appear more significant. Among other things, they would allow Americans more leeway to send money to the island, as long as it wasn't going to senior Cuban officials, aides said.
Asked about the new measures, the White House issued a statement by spokesman Mike Hammer: "We will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future."
The Obama administration has been crafting the new policy for months, and officials said it was not in response to an announcement last month that the Cuban government would free 52 political prisoners.
US weighs easing of Cuba travel restrictions
By MATTHEW LEE (AP) – 59 minutes ago
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, in a test of the Castro regime's appetite for further reform in the wake of its release of political prisoners, is considering easing travel restrictions to Cuba, U.S. and congressional officials said Tuesday.
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. They spoke on condition of anonymity because internal deliberations continue on the scope and scale of the changes.
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.
Some in Congress have voiced opposition to a further easing in the restrictions, which President Barack 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 Tuesday by The New York Times. But speculation about them has run rife in Washington since late July after Havana released the first batch of political prisoners.
Obama has said that 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 the U.S. takes further steps to ease Cuba's isolation.
The White House and State Department declined to comment Tuesday on specifics of the changes.
"We will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future," said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House. Those comments were echoed word-for-word by a State Department spokesman.
Speaking privately, two administration officials and a congressional source said support for the changes increased after Cuba began the release of political prisoners in July, which was brokered by the Catholic church.
Some supporters of easing the embargo say Raul Castro, who assumed power from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, may be trying to find a way to reduce state control of society without losing control, much like the Chinese communist party in the 1980s.
But the Obama administration could find it difficult politically to broaden ties with Cuba. The White House is still appealing to Cuba for the release of a U.S. government contractor who was detained last year.
Any effort to ease the embargo against Cuba would be fiercely opposed by Republicans and Democrats, both on Capitol Hill and across the U.S., who warn that it would weaken attempts to promote a fundamental change in Havana.
A growing number of lawmakers in both parties see Cuba as a lucrative market for U.S. farm exports, and support dropping at least some restrictions on trade.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has said that loosening restrictions would reward a repressive government that has shown little interest in reform.
"Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations," Menendez said in an Aug. 6 statement.
Mendendez' comments came in response to a mention of possible changes published in a Washington Post column.
AP sources: US weighs Cuba travel restrictions
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee, Associated Press Writer 1 hr 17 mins ago
WASHINGTON – U.S. and congressional officials say the Obama administration is considering easing travel restrictions to Cuba and could announce a decision before the end of next week.
The officials said Tuesday a decision on the move to increase "people-to-people" exchanges with the communist island has not yet been made. They said political considerations could still hold it up.
But they said the administration is keen to expand opportunities for American students, educators and researchers to visit Cuba. Details of the proposed policy shift were reported Tuesday by The New York Times.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because internal deliberations are still ongoing.
August 16, 2010
U.S. Said to Plan Easing Rules for Travel to Cuba
By GINGER THOMPSON
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is planning to expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba, the latest step aimed at encouraging more contact between people in both countries, while leaving intact the decades-old embargo against the island’s Communist government, according to Congressional and administration officials.
The officials, who asked not to be identified because they had not been authorized to discuss the policy before it was announced, said it was meant to loosen restrictions on academic, religious and cultural groups that were adopted under President George W. Bush, and return to the “people to people” policies followed under President Bill Clinton.
Those policies, officials said, fostered robust exchanges between the United States and Cuba, allowing groups — including universities, sports teams, museums and chambers of commerce — to share expertise as well as life experiences.
Policy analysts said the intended changes would mark a significant shift in Cuba policy. In early 2009, President Obama lifted restrictions on travel and remittances only for Americans with relatives on the island.
Congressional aides cautioned that some administration officials still saw the proposals as too politically volatile to announce until after the coming midterm elections, and they said revisions could still be made.
But others said the policy, which does not need legislative approval, would be announced before Congress returned from its break in mid-September, partly to avoid a political backlash from outspoken groups within the Cuban American lobby — backed by Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey — that oppose any softening in Washington’s position toward Havana.
Those favoring the change said that with a growing number of polls showing that Cuban-Americans’ attitudes toward Cuba had softened as well, the administration did not expect much of a backlash.
“They have made the calculation that if you put a smarter Cuba policy on the table, it will not harm us in the election cycle,” said one Democratic Congressional aide who has been working with the administration on the policy. “That, I think, is what animates this.”
Mr. Menendez, in a statement, objected to the anticipated changes. “This is not the time to ease pressure on the Castro regime,” he said, referring to President Raúl Castro of Cuba, who took office in 2006 after his brother, Fidel, fell ill. Mr. Menendez added that promoting travel would give Havana a “much needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression.”
In effect, the new policy would expand current channels for travel to Cuba, rather than create new ones. Academic, religious and cultural groups are now allowed to travel under very tight rules. For example, students wanting to study in Cuba are required to stay at least 10 weeks. And only accredited universities can apply for academic visas.
Under the new policy, such restrictions would be eased, officials said. And academic institutions, including research and advocacy groups and museums, would be able to seek licenses for as long as two years.
In addition, the administration is also planning to allow flights to Cuba from more cities than the three — Miami, New York and Los Angeles — currently permitted. And there are proposals, the officials said, to allow all Americans to send remittances or charitable donations to churches, schools and human rights groups in Cuba.
Some analysts said the measures were partly a response to pressure from an unlikely alliance of liberal political groups and conservative business associations — led by Senator John Kerry, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — who have been pushing Congress to lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba.
Others described it as a nod to President Castro’s stunning decision last month to begin releasing dozens of political prisoners.
“It’s a way of fostering greater opening and exchange without a bruising battle with a much-needed political ally in an election year,” said Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director at the Council of the Americas. “But it can still be legitimately couched as a way of supporting democracy and human rights by allowing independent exchange and thought.”
As with everything concerning Cuba, the new policy seems fraught with complications. President Obama, who came to office promising to open new channels of engagement with Cuba, has so far had limited those new openings to Cuban-Americans, partly because of political concerns, and also because his administration’s attention had been focused on more pressing foreign policy matters, including two wars.
“I don’t think the administration believes this will produce palpable change in the short term,” said Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations. “But it’s a way over the long term to allow Americans and Cubans to have contact, even as their governments continue to hash out a lot of seriously thorny issues.”
High on the United States’ list of issues is winning the release of an American contractor who was detained in Cuba nine months ago when the authorities said they caught him distributing satellite telephones to Jewish dissidents. The contractor, Alan P. Gross, had gone to Cuba without the proper visa as part of longstanding program by the organization Usaid, in which development workers conduct activities aimed at strengthening groups that oppose the Castro government.
“We’re dealing with a relationship that’s so contorted, it would take another 50 years of incremental steps to pull it apart and reassemble it in a constructive way,” said Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University. “Even then, we’re having trouble taking baby steps, when what we need is a giant leap.”
The Miami Herald
Posted on Fri, Aug. 06, 2010
U.S. could ease restrictions on `purposeful' visits to Cuba
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
The Obama administration will soon ease some restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and other sanctions following Havana's promise to free political prisoners, according to people close to the administration.
Two people told El Nuevo Herald on Friday the decision has been made and will be announced in the next two weeks. Another said he has heard the reports but cautioned they could be ``trial balloons.''
The key change will be an expansion of educational and cultural travel, which accounted for about 2,000 visits in 2009, said two of the sources. Many academics have urged President Barack Obama to expand those visits, drastically trimmed by the George W. Bush administration.
One of them added that Obama also will restore the broader ``people-to-people'' category of travel, which allows ``purposeful'' visits to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.
Though that category requires prior U.S. licenses for the trips, it is fuzzy enough to allow for much expanded travel to Cuba, the source added. All asked for anonymity because they did not want to be seen as preempting a White House announcement.
The people-to-people category was established by the Clinton administration but was closed in 2003 by Bush, both because of his more aggressive policies toward Cuba and complaints that too many people were abusing it for tourist trips.
An estimated 150,000-200,000 U.S. travelers visited the island in 2001. The figure dropped to 120,000 during Bush's last year in office, but rebounded to 200,000 in 2009 after Obama lifted nearly all restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel to the island.
Another change will be permission for U.S.-Cuba flights from all of the approximately 35 U.S. airports that have top-level security arrangements, according to two of the sources. Cuba flights are now approved only for Miami, Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy airport in New York.
Obama also will make it easier to pay in the United States for telephone and other services rendered in Cuba, the sources added, in hopes of increasing communications between the island and Cuban exiles.
Francisco ``Pepe'' Hernandez, president of the Cuban-American National Foundation, told El Nuevo Herald he could not confirm the reports but noted that CANF opposes U.S. tourism in Cuba but favors easing the travel restrictions.
``For a long time we have been making an effort with the [Obama] administration to extend the licenses and spectrum of people-to-people travel because we believe this is a proactive measure that is going to help to provide people in Cuba with the support they need,'' he said.
Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, said only that the Obama administration ``will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future.''
But the reports drew quick condemnations from opponents of easing sanctions, who all noted that U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross and at least 30 political prisoners remain jailed in Cuba.
``This is not time to ease the pressure on the Castro regime. They have made no significant concessions that should be rewarded,'' said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a Cuban-American and head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, a powerful post in an election year.
``Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations,'' Menendez added in a statement.
Said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.: ``Concessions to tyrants like Fidel Castro simply embolden them in their ruthless brutality. History teaches that lesson. . . . But President Obama continues to err.''
U.S. regulations allow only 12 categories of travel to Cuba, including family reunification, official U.S. government business, journalism, professional research and meetings, educational and religious activities, and performances or athletic competitions.
Some fall under ``general licenses'' that do not require prior U.S. approval, but most require applications for ``specific licenses'' issued by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The ``people-to-people'' travel, if it is restored, would require specific licenses, but the president has the power to change it into general license, said Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer who follows U.S. sanctions on Cuba closely.
Congress has been considering a bill that would lift all U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba. Its backers insist it has a good chance of passing, though congressional staffers monitoring the bill say it's short of the needed votes.
One of the three sources said the easing of the travel and other restrictions is the Obama administration's ``calibrated response'' to the Raúl Castro government's promise to free at least 52 political prisoners by September. More than 20 already are free.
Because the changes will be the result of presidential decisions, rather than changes in the maze of U.S. laws regulating relations with Cuba, Obama ``can backtrack if it all goes bad,'' he said.
One Democratic Party operative in Miami said, however, that any decision to ease the restrictions would not be a reply to the Castro promise, but rather a continuation of the Obama policy of doing whatever he believes benefits U.S. interests in Cuba, no matter what Castro does.
The operative said he was not worried that Cuba might complain that the Obama changes would be a too-meager response to Castro's promise to free the 52 political prisoners -- the biggest such release since 1998.
``The last thing we want is Cuba saying, `Thanks, Obama,' '' said the man, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on Obama policies.
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