Obama eases restrictions on Cuba, lifts limits on rum and cigars

Fri Oct 14, 2016 7:38pm EDT
 
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By Matt Spetalnick and Sarah Marsh

WASHINGTON/HAVANA (Reuters) - Americans traveling to Cuba will be allowed to bring home more of the communist-ruled island's coveted cigars and rum under new measures announced by the U.S. government on Friday to further ease trade, travel and financial restrictions that have been in place for decades.

Cuba welcomed the steps, part of President Barack Obama's effort to make his historic opening to Cuba "irreversible" by the time he leaves office in January, but said they did not go far enough.

The latest in a series of new rules since the former Cold War foes began normalizing relations in 2014 will allow Cubans to buy certain U.S. consumer goods online, open the door for Cuban pharmaceutical companies to do business in the United States and let Cubans and Americans do joint medical research.

For American travelers, the biggest change is the removal of limits on the amount of rum and cigars they can pack in their luggage, strictly for personal use.

"You can now celebrate with Cuban rum and Cuban cigars," U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice quipped as she laid out the policy changes in a speech to a Washington think tank.

U.S. law still bans general tourism to Cuba, but the administration has used previous regulatory packages to make it easier for Americans to visit the island under 12 officially authorized categories.

The latest measures are part of an executive order on Cuba through which Obama seeks to sidestep the Republican-controlled Congress, which has resisted his call to lift Washington's economic embargo after more than 50 years.

Republican critics say Obama is making too many concessions to Cuba for too little in return, especially on human rights issues. "After two years of President Obama's Cuba policy, the Castro regime has made out like bandits," said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American lawmaker from Florida.   Continued...

 
Cuban cigars for sale are displayed at a hotel in Havana, Cuba October 14, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa