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Changes in U.S. - Cuba relations

President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba and a series of actions aimed at easing travel and trade restrictions. Earlier Wednesday came word that Cuba released American Alan Gross, who had been held in prison for five years, and in exchange the U.S. freed three Cubans jailed in Florida on charges including conspiracy.

There have been no diplomatic relations between United States and Cuba since the early 1960s, after Fidel Castro and his Communist government came to power. Now the president has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and re-establishement of an embassy in Havana.

The administration is broadening use of existing categories of allowable travel, including for family visits, professional meetings, public performances, athletic competitions and human rights work. Travelers in Cuba will be able to use U.S. credit and debit cards. The announcement also includes step to increase commercial flights to Cuba. Tourist travel remains banned for Americans, although the relaxing of regulations have led many to believe that this could well be the next issue to be reviewed.

The administration is also increasing commercial trade in both directions. Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined. Certain items that support telecommunications in Cuba will be allowed for export, and companies will be allowed to establish related infrastructure. Items that will be authorized for export from U.S. include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.

The U.S. is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans 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.

Cuba has been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1982. Obama's action directs the secretary of State to immediately launch a review of that status.

Obama does not have the authority to fully lift the long-standing U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, given that Congress enacted that policy. However, officials said he would welcome lawmakers taking that step. 

Online searches for trips to Cuba are up a staggering 95 per cent following Barack Obama's plans to re-develop relations between the two countries. Right now, due to its economic and political isolation up to this point, Cuba is locked in something of a time warp. And for better or for worse, it’s this that lends Cuba it’s allure. Tourists are being warned that if they want to see the real Cuba they should book their trips now, before the Caribbean country becomes Americanised.

From the perspective of the Cuban people, the proposed changes could have some positive impacts on their lives. The general feeling amongst Cubans is one of excitement. They are very aware that this will be a long process but they are over the moon that the first steps have been taken.