Obama Administration Continues to Loosen Rules Regarding Cuba

Jake Tapper and Kirit Radia report: The White House announced Friday afternoon that it would further ease travel and other restrictions regarding Cuba.

President Obama directed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to:

- ease travel to Cuba for religious groups and students;

- allows more remittances – up to $2,000 a year -- to flow to non-Communists in Cuba; and

- allow all US international airports to offer charter flights.

Currently only airports in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami offer such charter flights.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, said in a statement that the “changes undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectives and will bring economic benefits to the Cuban regime.”

Said Ros-Lehtinen, “Loosening these regulations will not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba. These changes will not aid in ushering in respect for human rights. And they certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them.”

Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also voiced opposition to the changes, saying the “weaken U.S. policy towards Cuba.”

Rubio, born in Miami to Cuban-born parents who fled for the US following Fidel Castro’s takeover, said what needs to change are "the Cuban regime's repressive policies towards the independent press and labor unions, its imprisonment of political prisoners and constant harassment of citizens with dissenting views, and its refusal to allow free multi-party elections. It is unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people.”

But Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez, President of Cuban American National Foundation, applauded the move, saying the changes “will help to break the chains of dependency that the Castro regime has traditionally used to oppress those inside Cuba….These measures do not represent a concession to the Castro regime, but rather form part of a continuing series of unilateral measures that the US is taking which demonstrate a concern for the well-being of ordinary folks.” Hernandez suggested that increased travel will “foster fraternal bonds among ordinary people that those in power in Cuba's totalitarian system will have difficulty in controlling.” Change in Cuba will come because of “these same ordinary people inside the island. The more we can do to promote their self-reliance, their knowledge of the realities of the outside world, and their independence from the Castro regime, the better are their prospects for democratic change."

President Obama began easing restrictions regarding Cuba in April 2009, reversing the course set by President George W. Bush.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll from April 2009 found 55 percent support for ending all travel restrictions to Cuba, 57 percent support for ending the trade embargo, and 66 percent support for establishing diplomatic relations. (Read more on that poll HERE .)

- Jake Tapper and Kirit Radia

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