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U.S. to allow more travel to Cuba

By Catholic Online
January 18th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

One of the few remaining hard-line communist nations, Cuba, has long remained a thorn in the side of the United States. Travel to the feisty island has been highly restricted, if allowed at all. Those who wanted to travel to Cuba at times had to do so surreptitiously, through a secret network of passport juggling. Now - the Obama administration is easing restrictions to Cuba, making it easier for church groups, school and activists to fly there.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - One of the few remaining hard-line communist nations, Cuba, has long remained a thorn in the side of the United States. Travel to the feisty island has been highly restricted, if allowed at all. Those who wanted to travel to Cuba at times had to do so surreptitiously, through a secret network of passport juggling. Now - the Obama administration is easing restrictions to Cuba, making it easier for church groups, school and activists to fly there.

A senior Obama official says that the move is in order to expand cultural, religious and educational travel to Cuba as part of the administration's continuing "effort to support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their own future."

President Barack Obama is also restoring the amount of money -- $2,000, which can be sent to non-family members to the level they were at during part of the Clinton and Bush administrations. However, there will be a quarterly limit on the amount that any American can send: $500 per quarter to "support private economic activity."

In addition, "people-to-people" categories of travel, which allows "purposeful" visits will be allowed in order to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.

The move has not been welcomed openly by all. In particular, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, denounced the decision, saying that lifting restrictions "will not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba.

"These changes will not aid in ushering in respect for human rights," Ros-Lehtinen said. "And they certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them. These changes undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectives and will bring economic benefits to the Cuban regime.''

Tampa Democrat Rep. Kathy Castor welcomes the news and suggested Cuban Americans in her community would soon be able to travel directly from Tampa to Cuba if the airport secures authorization.

"The Tampa Bay region has one of the highest Cuban-American populations in this country, but for too long, families have had to travel to Miami in order to get to Cuba," said Castor, who sent a letter to Obama before he took office, "requesting a fresh look at U.S.-Cuban relations and lifting travel restrictions for families."

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