White House Eases Other Restrictions on Travel to Cuba, Paves Way for Cuban Professional Athletes

The day Florida votes in the presidential primary and ahead of President Obama's historic trip to Havana this weekend, the White House has eased regulations on tourism and some financial rules with Cuba. The new rules will have major effects on travel between the countries and will pave the way for Cubans to play professional sports in America without having to defect. 

The White House first eased travel regulations to Cuba in January 2015. Before then, Americans traveling to Cuba had to seek prior approval from the Treasury Department under a narrow set of circumstances. The 2015 rule change did away with pre-approval, but Americans still had to claim their travel was for a specific set of reasons. The new rules announced today simply allow Americans to travel to the island for any "person-to-person" educational trips. 

"The goal of the President's policy with Cuba is simple: to improve the lives of Cubans and to advance the interests of the United States," White House press secretary Josh Earnest says in a statement. "The President fundamentally believes that the best way to achieve that goal is by facilitating more interaction between the Cuban and American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities, and through more access to information."

Though outright tourism to Cuba is still banned, the move frees Americans to travel to Cuba as individuals, a key step as commercial flights between the countries are expected to resume this summer. Under the new rules, Americans will be able to buy a direct plane ticket themselves without going through a travel company. 

Another change will allow Cubans who aren't looking to immigrate to earn a salary in the United States and to be paid in American dollars. 

"Cuban athletes, artists, performers, and others who obtain the requisite visas will be able to travel to the United States and earn salaries and stipends in excess of basic living expenses," the White House's release reads. 

Notably, the move could pave the way for Cubans to play in Major League Baseball without defecting. 

"It certainly does address the ability of Cuban athletes who could earn salaries in the United States to do so. That's obviously one of the issues that [Major League Baseball] has been discussing with Cuba," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told USA Today. 

Other new regulations relax rules on shipping to Cuba, the import of Cuban software, and a ban on consumption of Cuban goods by Americans while in a third country. 

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