MIAMI — The Obama administration will soon ease some restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and other sanctions following Havana’s promise to free political prisoners, according to growing reports.
Two persons close to the administration said Friday the decision has been made and will be announced in two weeks.
The key change will be an expansion of educational and cultural travel, which accounted for about 2,000 visits in 2009, said two of the sources. Many academics have urged President Barack Obama to expand those visits, drastically trimmed by the George W. Bush administration.
One of them added that Obama also will restore the broader “people-to-people” category of travel, which allows “purposeful” visits to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.
Though that category requires prior U.S. licenses for the trips, it is fuzzy enough to allow for much expanded travel to Cuba, the source said.
The people-to-people category was established by the Clinton administration but was closed in 2003 by Bush, both because of his more aggressive policies toward Cuba and complaints that too many people were abusing it for purely tourist trips.
An estimated 150,000-200,000 U.S. travelers visited the island in 2001. The figure dropped to 120,000 during Bush’s last year in office, but rebounded to 200,000 in 2009 after Obama lifted virtually all restrictions on Cuban Americans’ travel to the island.
Another change will be permission for U.S.-Cuba flights from all U.S. airports that have top-level security, the sources said. Cuba flights are now approved only for Miami, Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy airport in New York.