(AP) - President Barack Obama directed his administration Monday to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba, and to take other steps to ease U.S. restrictions on the island, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.
The formal announcement was being made at the White House Monday afternoon, during presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs' daily briefing with reporters.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the president's announcement.
With the changes, Obama aims to create new space for the Cuban people in their quest for political freedom and a democratic government, in part by making them less dependent on the Castro regime, the official said.
Other steps taken Monday include allowing gift parcels to be sent to Cuba, and issuing licenses to increase communications among and to the Cuban people. About 1.5 million Americans have relatives in Cuba.
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.
"There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans," Obama said in a campaign speech last May in Miami, the heart of the U.S. Cuban-American community. "It's time to let Cuban Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It's time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime."
Sending money to senior government officials and Communist Party members remains prohibited.
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.
Other steps taken Monday include expanding the things allowed in gift parcels being sent to Cuba, such as clothes, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing gear and other personal necessities.
The administration also will begin issuing licenses to allow companies to provide cell and television services to people on the island, and to allow family members to pay for relatives on Cuba to get those services, the official said.
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