By Mike Dorning
Americans traveling to Cuba can soon bring home a lot more of the island’s famous cigars and rum.
The Obama administration announced Friday that it would raise limits on the importation of Cuban alcohol and tobacco products for personal use in the baggage of returning U.S. residents. Importing Cuban cigars and rum for commercial purposes remains illegal.
The regulatory change, which takes effect Monday, is part of the sixth round of eased sanctions since President Barack Obama re-opened relations with Cuba in December 2014. The administration also will ease importation of pharmaceutical products from Cuba and allow joint medical research and U.S. work that assists infrastructure development in Cuba.
The administration previously re-opened the U.S. embassy in Havana and resumed direct flights to and from the island. Last spring, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the country in 88 years.
The president said in a statement that the regulatory changes announced Friday are “another major step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with Cuba,” and predicted that they would help “make our opening to Cuba irreversible.”
The U.S. Cuba embargo law remains in effect and can only be lifted by Congress. The administration has urged repeal of the embargo, though Republicans in Congress have blocked legislation to end it.
Previously, travelers had been limited to a maximum $100 combined value of Cuban alcohol and tobacco products and could bring them home only if they had personally traveled to Cuba. Travelers are allowed only $400 in total goods from Cuba.
For the first time, Americans traveling abroad also will be allowed to bring home Cuban cigars and alcohol purchased in countries other than Cuba.
Cuban alcohol and tobacco products will now face the same restrictions as products of other countries, with a limit of 100 cigars or 200 cigarettes and 1 liter of alcohol eligible for import. Travelers are allowed as much as $800 in all products without duty and can bring home more if they pay duties.
The changes don’t affect the ban on commercial imports of Cuban cigars and rum for resale.