President Obama and the President of Cuba, Raul Castro, began a historic diplomatic reconciliation with the visit of the U.S. president to the island in March 2016. Recently, the U.S. announced new cuts in sanctions against Cuba to facilitate trade in medical research as well as in the purchase of Cuban rum and cigars.
Since October 17, all Americans traveling to Cuba can bring back 100 cigars and a liter of rum without fear of these items being confiscated at customs. With reduced trade sanctions against Cuba, the U.S. has also lifted restrictions on the value of goods that American travelers may bring to Cuba for their personal use.
Americans will also be allowed to work with Cubans for scientific or commercial purposes, as well as open bank accounts on the island.
These new steps in the reconciliation between the former Cold War enemies “have the potential to accelerate constructive change and unlock greater economic opportunity for Cubans and Americans,” said Jacob Lew, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
The same belief is held by the director of U.S. Affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, who ensures that this is “is a significant step in the process toward lifting the blockade and to improving relations with Cuba.”
In a statement, Obama asserts that “challenges remain – and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights – but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values.”
This historic reconciliation between the two countries was launched in December 2014, when Presidents Obama and President Castro ordered the restoration of diplomatic ties and announced plans for a U.S. embassy in Havana for the first time in more than half a century. President Obama went to the island for an official visit in March, becoming the first U.S. president to set foot on Cuban soil since Castro’s 1959 revolution.
While the improvements are notable, the economic and financial embargo imposed in 1962 remains in place and can only be lifted by Act of Congress. Still, it’s the first step in a new chapter of U.S. relations with Cuba.