Obama opened the first presidential visit to Cuba in nearly 90 years on Sunday when Air Force One touched down in Havana. Strolling through the grand cobblestoned plazas of Old Havana with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Sasha and Malia, Obama created an indelible image for both Cubans and Americans of the peacemaking that he and Castro have cautiously but doggedly pursued.
“The time is right,” Obama said in an ABC interview, when asked why he was proceeding now with the Cuba initiative.
Although tourism is still technically off-limits, the ban becomes essentially unenforceable, with Americans permitted to travel on their own with no prior permission. White House officials said there would be “no shortage” of opportunities for Americans to fill the loosely defined requirement that they engage with locals in a bid to further U.S.-Cuban understanding.
Among the changes unveiled Tuesday:
— The U.S. eliminated a ban on Cuban access to the international banking system
— Cuba announced that the first direct mail in a half-century would fly from the U.S. to Cuba starting Wednesday
— Cuban citizens can start to earn salaries in the U.S. in most circumstances without immigrating
— Cuban citizens can open U.S. bank accounts and use them to send remittances back home
The United States is also poised to ease security restrictions for ships coming from Cuba bound for American ports, U.S. officials told The Associated Press, a step that would ease the way for both ferry service between Florida and Cuba and U.S. cruise ships docking in Havana. Obama’s administration has approved both ferries and cruises over the last year, but neither service has started.
One of today’s key events on President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Cuba is a meeting with small-business people from the island and visiting American business executives.
Obama’s relaxation of the U.S. embargo of Cuba is aimed partly at encouraging relationships with the private businesses