The United States announced Friday new measures to further trade and ease financial restrictions with Cuba, but they fall short of finally ending the decades-long crippling blockade.
President Barack Obama is trying to cement this new era with Cuba before leaving office in January, and issued a presidential order to make irreversible the new policy toward the Caribbean island.
"We've increased the space for this type of travel, people to people exchange, commercial opportunities in ways that are already having a positive impact on the lives of Americans and Cubans," a senior U.S. official told Reuters. "Turning back the clock on that policy would only take away those opportunities."
Current U.S. Security Adviser Susan Rice said Friday that the blockade against Cuba was a failed policy and asked Congress to eliminate it. According to Rice, it would be unwise and counterproductive for future U.S. presidents to reverse the directive issued by the current president.
"Some believe that normalizing relations with Cuba is a mistake, but the harsh reality is that the blockade has failed," said Rice.
The measure–the latest in a series of new rules since the two former Cold War foes began normalizing relations in Dec. 2014–will allow the export to Cuba of some U.S. consumer goods sold online and let U.S. firms improve Cuban infrastructure for humanitarian purposes, the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments said in a statement.
U.S. travelers, who fall under the 12 categories allowed to travel to the island, will have no limits on imports for personal use including Cuban cigars and rum.
U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba will also no longer be limited to bringing back goods worth up to US$400, including US$100 worth of tobacco and alcohol. President Obama ordered the changes, which also clears the way for Cuban pharmaceuticals to gain U.S. regulatory approval.
Despite the normalization of relations, the U.S. blockade on Cuba remains in effect and can only be lifted by Congress. The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by Washington since Feb. 1962 has caused over US$121 billion to Cuba.
Since the announcement of the decision to restore diplomatic relations, Cuba has marked the lifting of the blockade as essential to normalizing bilateral ties.
The new rules will take effect Monday and could help boost the Cuban economy.