U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the easing of U.S. restrictions on Cuba, including allowing unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban-Americans to family in their home country, the White House said Monday.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the changes are intended to "reach out" to the Cuban people and "support their desire to enjoy basic human rights and to freely determine their country’s future."
"It's time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers," Gibbs said.
Other steps taken Monday include allowing gift parcels to be sent to Cuba, and issuing licences to increase communications among and to the Cuban people.
Obama had promised to take these steps as a presidential candidate. It has been known for over a week that he would announce them in advance of his attendance this weekend at a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Cuba became a communist country after a revolution in 1959. The U.S. imposed a trade embargo and a travel ban after many U.S. companies were nationalized by the government of ex-president Fidel Castro.
Sending money to senior government officials and Communist party members remains prohibited under Obama's new policy.
Restrictions imposed by the Bush administration had limited Cuban travel by Americans to just two weeks every three years. Visits also were confined to immediate family members.
Some U.S. lawmakers, backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba, are advocating wider revisions in the trade and travel bans.
But officials said that Obama is keeping the decades-old U.S. trade embargo, arguing that that policy provides leverage to pressure the regime to free all political prisoners as one step toward normalized relations with the U.S.