US credit cards to work in Cuba

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It’s about to get a bit easier for Americans to travel to and transact in Cuba.

The Obama administration announced plans Wednesday to normalize diplomatic relations with the nation for the first time since 1961, following the release of U.S. aid worker Aaron Gross. Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years.

Among the changes set to go into effect, U.S. credit and debit cards will soon be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.

U.S. financial institutions will also be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions. Remittance levels from U.S. citizens to Cuban nationals will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter and those looking to send remittances will no longer require a special license to do so.

These measures are meant to improve the speed, efficiency and oversight of authorized payments between the U.S. and Cuba, the administration said.

“This contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people,” President Barack Obama said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cubans … Today, we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.”

In order to further improve relations, the U.S. is also planning on easing travel restrictions to Cuba, while, though not currently illegal, can certainly prove difficult for most U.S. citizens. It also plans to re-open its embassy in Havana.

Details on the ease were scarce and an official timeline for their implementation was not provided. The administration did say, however, that licensed U.S. travelers will soon be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, though no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.

Tensions between the U.S. and Cuba have endured since the Cold War. The Obama administration says its planned changes are meant to promote positive change for Cuba’s citizens.  

“Cuba has many hurdles to clear in order to satisfy the needs of its own citizens,” said Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in a written statement. “While the Cuban government has undertaken some steps to loosen economic restrictions on its citizens, it is clear that far more extensive economic reforms are both necessary and desired by the Cuban people.”

What do you think of the U.S.’s policy changes toward Cuba? Let us know if the comments below.

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