TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Barack Obama plans to weaken the Cuban policy on travel expenses for students and church groups to move to a communist country, the administration announced on Friday.
Students seeking academic credit and church travel for religious purposes will be able to travel to Cuba. The plan also would allow any American to send as much as $ 500 every three months for Cuban citizens who are not part of the administration and the Castro are not members of the Communist Party.
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White House press office sent out a release saying Obama has the changes that do not require congressional approval. They will be put in place for two weeks.
Changes that Obama made last year have increased the ability of Cuban Americans to visit family and send money to relatives. The changes are similar to travel policy under President Bill Clinton. Critics have said that they will not contribute to improving the lives of Cubans.
Senator Bill Nelson’s office earlier confirmed the change after the State Department informed him, but Nelson was traveling and could not be reached for comment on the plans.
Pepe Hernandez, head of the moderate Cuban-American National Foundation, called the changes are very positive, most importantly the decision to allow all Americans to send money to Cubans.
“This will help the interaction between ordinary Cubans and U.S. citizens, it’s going to help the Cuban people in the island to gain independence from the Cuban government, especially now that approximately one million will be jobless,” he said, referring to Raul Castro’s decision to reduce labor government.
Hernandez said the Cuban government will get some benefit from remittances, but that he can live with that because Cuban citizens, including dissidents, now there is another source of support.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the top Roman Catholic leader in South Florida, welcomed the changes.
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“U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference has worked tirelessly for many years with White House representatives promoting contacts between the people of Cuba and the free world,” said Wenski.
Several Cuban-Americans interviewed in Little Havana area of Miami said they had no problems with the changes.
“At best, it’s good for students to see how bad it is,” said Martha Bergasa, 60, laboratory assistant, who was born in Cuba. “The problem is that students can not come here.”
Others do not think the changes will bring no benefit. Maria Vasquez, a shop owner Sentir Cubano memorabilia, said the change will not do anything to help democracy in Cuba.
“I am categorically against this idea,” said Vazquez.
“I think our country needs is freedom, not these small patches of students going to Cuba.”
Associated Press writers Matt Sedensky, Christine Armario and Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami contributed to this report.
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