WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Cuba soon will begin talks to restore full diplomatic relations, marking the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades. Key elements of changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba that President Barack Obama was to announce Wednesday afternoon:
ESTABLISHING DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS
Senior administration officials say Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba on re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba; ties were cut off in January 1961. This step includes re-opening a U.S. Embassy in the capital of Havana and carrying out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments as part of the normalization process.
EXPANDING TRAVEL TO CUBA
Easing travel under general licenses for 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba, as authorized by U.S. law. They are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation or transmission of information or information materials; and certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
The amount of money anyone in the U.S. will be allowed to send to Cuban nationals, except certain government or communist party officials, will increase from $500 to $2,000 per quarter, or every three months. Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans and removed a $1,200 annual cap on remittances.
Licensed American travelers to Cuba can return home with up to $400 of merchandise, including tobacco and alcohol products worth no more than $100 combined. Any Cuban cigars brought back to the U.S. must be for personal use.
FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS BETWEEN THE U.S. AND CUBA
U.S. institutions will be allowed to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to smooth the processing of authorized transactions. Travelers will be allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba.
INCREASE CUBANS' ACCESS TO COMMUNICATIONS
Authorize the commercial export of certain items that will help increase the Cuban people's ability to communicate with people in the U.S. and around the world. This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, services and items to establish and update communications-related systems. Cuba has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world, the White House said. The cost of telecommunications on the island also is prohibitively expensive and the services offered are extremely limited.
REVIEW CUBA'S DESIGNATION AS A STATE SPONSOR OF TERRORISM
Kerry will immediately launch such a review and report back to Obama within six months. The U.S. added Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1982.