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Obama eases Cuba restrictions

DELSA Bernardo was ready to pop rolls in the oven at Yiya's Gourmet Cuban Bakery in Miami when she heard the news: After years of separation, she could finally visit her 80-year-old aunt in Cuba, any time she wanted.

Like many Cuban-Americans, Bernardo celebrated President Barack Obama's decision on Monday to break from a half-century of US policy toward the country and lift restrictions on visiting relatives there and sending money to them.

In a further sign of openness, the White House also announced it would allow US firms to seek telecommunications business there.

"This is fantastic for me. I can actually go see my father's sister. She's my last living relative there," said Bernardo, 47, who came to the US when she was five and has never been back.

Although the change is measured - travel is still limited for other Americans and a wide-reaching trade embargo remains in place - the White House portrayed the move as a path to promoting personal freedom.

First proposed during Obama's presidential campaign, the changes marked another major step away from the foreign policy priorities of the Bush administration.

But the moves fell far short of more drastic policy adjustments that some lawmakers have argued are required to promote US interests in Latin America.

For most Americans, Cuba remains the only country in the world their government prohibits them from visiting - a barrier to potential travelers as well as to the Cuban tourist industry that would like to host them.

Miami attorney Joe Garcia, long an advocate of easing travel restrictions, said the ability to send more money to the island would let Cuban-Americans directly support civil society there, rather than being forced to channel their money through a few US-government sanctioned aid groups.

Obama is unlikely to allow American tourists to visit the island without limits any time soon. And lifting or substantially easing the economic embargo would require legislative action by Congress, something Cuban-Americans feel mixed about.

Many believe it should remain in place as a moral symbol even though many acknowledge it has been ineffective.

"We hope that the administration will reserve that for future steps when conditions on the part of the Cuban government have changed and political prisoners have been freed," said Francisco Hernandez, director of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami.

Cuban-American Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, took an even stronger stance.

"President Obama has committed a serious mistake by unilaterally increasing Cuban-American travel and remittance dollars for the Cuban dictatorship," he said in a statement.


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