United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker made the announcement today about trade and travel restrictions with Cuba being lifted Friday. The link she provided to the US government's commerce site immediately crashed as individuals and businesses started making plans.
Cuba is the largest Carribbean island and home to 11 million people. The country is just 90 miles off the US coast. The United States embargo against Cuba is a commercial, economic and financial embargo imposed on that country. It began in 1960 when the US placed an embargo on exports to Cuba (except for food and medicine). Two years later, the embargo was extended to include almost all imports.
Here are highlights of the new rules that start on Friday:
- Americans in Cuba had been restricted to spending $188 a day in Cuba for hotel, meals and other incidentals, but that limit will be lifted under the new rules.
- For the first time, Americans can also return to the U.S. with up to $100 in Cuban rum and cigars and a total of $400 in goods.
- U.S. residents will be able to use their credit and debit cards on the island.
- U.S. companies will be able to sell more resources directly to Cuba's small-business sector like materials, equipment and tools.
- American firms can help build up the island's struggling telecommunications industry by selling software, hardware and services to improve Cuba's communications infrastructure, including Internet-based services.
- U.S. companies will also be able to sell environmental equipment to Cuba to help the country improve air and water quality and protect its coastlines from oil spills and other disasters.
There are still restrictions - the doors are not completely open. The US wants some political changes as well as release of some political prisoners. Only Congress can lift the trade embargo, not the president.
To have a robust travel industry, Cuba will have to build first class hotels, a better infrastructure, advanced telecommunications and increase wireless access.
Another issue: Cuba is still a poor country and they don't have a lot of disposable income to buy US products.
Critics have blasted Obama for not guaranteeing changes to Cuba's human rights record, citing ongoing arrests of political protesters. Two weeks ago, Cuban authorities detained at least three dissidents who were trying to conduct a public protest in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution.