WASHINGTON — The White House is preparing a package of measures that would expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and send money there, congressional and Obama administration officials said Tuesday.
The measures, which do not need congressional approval, would make it easier for Americans to get U.S. government licenses for cultural, educational and sports exchanges, according to congressional aides briefed on the new policy. The regulations would not end the current economic embargo or the ban on American tourists visiting the island.
The changes would largely restore a policy from the Clinton administration that encouraged "people-to-people" contacts with residents of the communist-ruled nation, officials said. Such contacts were limited by the Helms-Burton legislation of 1996 and later tightened further by the George W. Bush administration.
Still, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a prominent Cuban-American legislator, expressed concern. "This is not the time to ease the pressure on the Castro regime," he said in a statement. "Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations."
Supporters argue that people-to-people programs are more effective than U.S. government efforts to promote democracy in Cuba, since it is illegal for Cubans to receive aid under many of the official U.S. programs.
Several people familiar with the new measures said they could be made public within weeks.
Obama last year loosened restrictions on Cuban-Americans' ability to visit and send remittances to the island, but the new steps appear more significant. Among other things, they would allow Americans more leeway to send money to the island, as long as it wasn't going to senior Cuban officials, aides said.