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U.S. Treasury Department eases Cuba travel restrictions

New rule would allow individual travel

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PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – The U.S. Treasury Department announced Tuesday an ease of travel restrictions to Cuba, that will allow for easier commerce between the United States and the island nation.

These changes permit individuals to take "people to people" educational trips rather than having to be part of a group, will allow Cubans earn a salary in the U.S. and will allow them to have easier transactions with banks. 

Shipping restrictions between the two countries have also been eased, and  grants and awards for educational projects in Cuba, and U.S. participation in philanthropic efforts will  now be permitted.

"Today's steps build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial freedoms, and chart a new course in U.S.-Cuba relations," Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a statement.  "Today we are building on this progress by facilitating travel for additional Americans looking to engage with Cubans; allowing Cuban citizens to earn a salary in the United States; and expanding access to the U.S. financial system as well as trade and commercial opportunities."

The new regulations come after the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. back in December 2014 and just a week before President Barack Obama's visit to the island nation on March 21.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker believes that these changes will help Cubans improve their quality of life.

"Today's amendments build upon President Obama's historic actions to improve our country's relationship with Cuba and its people," U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said. "These steps not only expand opportunities for economic engagement between the Cuban people and the American business community, but will also improve the lives of millions of Cuba's citizens."

Republican politicians, however, were quick to express their concern over the further easing of travel regulations.

"Just in the past few days in Cuba, there has been increased repression on the island and more arrests are being made in anticipation of the president's misguided visit," U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said. "Yet, the White House continues to grasp at regulatory straws to see what else it can concede in advance of the president's trip to Cuba to promote more funds going in the pockets of the regime. U.S. policy must focus less on easing our regulations and more on putting pressure on the Castro brothers to unclench its fists which oppress the Cuban people."

In an application presented to the U.S. Department of Transportation dated March 14, American Airlines supports  travel to and from Cuba, claiming that it is an "essential first step to maximizing the prospect of success for the Administration's policy of restoring and growing scheduled service to Cuba over the long term."

The airline has proposed flights and traffic patterns to travel to Cuba, and has requested that the U.S. Department of grant its application to operate 22 scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba.

"The success of these scheduled frequencies will impact U.S.-Cuba relations for years to come, and will be an extraordinary achievement for the president's legacy," the airline said.