Bad news for tourists: President Obama's new Cuba policy doesn't change anything for would-be American tourists to Cuba, unless you're ethnically Cuban-American.
"There's no change. It's for Cuban-Americans," State Department press spokesman Darby Holladay said.
Obama's new policy, announced today, makes it easier for Americans to send items to Cuba and visit family in Cuba. Cuban-Americans will be able to visit family members within three degrees, up to second cousins, as often as they like and as long as they like (as long as their relatives aren't senior government or party officials in Cuba.) They'll also be able to send their Cuban relatives money, and US communications firms will be allowed to set up cell-phone and satellite links with the island.
But unless you're Cuban-American, you're still mostly locked out of traveling to Cuba for now. Only a few groups licensed by the Department of the Treasury are allowed to travel to Cuba for educational or humanitarian reasons. Some Americans go without licenses, but if you're caught on your way home, you can be fined heavily. For a summary of restrictions on travel to Cuba, see our Cuba trip-planning page.
In a CNN poll released this week, 64% of Americans said the US government should allow citizens to travel to Cuba. But travel is still controversial in Congress, with opponents saying that loosening the restrictions should wait until the Cuban government changes a wide range of policies, including releasing political prisoners and holding free elections.
In his blog on our site, Arthur Frommers remarks that Americans violated the travel ban "with impunity" during the Clinton years; enforcement became much stricter during the Bush administration. The Obama administration hasn't made any statements about how vigorously they intend to enforce the ban.
There's a bill called the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, sitting in the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations, which would override Presidential restrictions on private travel to Cuba. It has a parallel House bill that's also sitting in committee.
The President could also loosen the restrictions himself, and that may happen in the future -- just not now.
"The Cuba policy is under review and continues to be under review," Holladay said.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers in our Cuba Forum today.