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Congress Eases Cuba Travel Restrictions

The $410 billion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last night, which is expected to be signed by President Obama, includes language easing restrictions on travel to Cuba.

Once the president signs the bill, Cuban-Americans will be able to visit the country every year for an extended trip. They are presently only allowed to visit every three years, and their time on the island is limited to two weeks.

It will "also expand the definition of 'close relative' to allow Cuban-Americans to visit cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles, in addition to parents, grandparents, children and siblings," according to AFP, and "would allow Cuban-Americans to spend up to 179 dollars per day while in Cuba."

The bill will also ease limits on the importation of food and medicine to Cuba and on travel to the country to sell such goods, effectively easing – though not lifting – the U.S. trade embargo on the communist country, which was stiffened during the Bush administration.

The provisions prompted two Democratic senators, Bill Nelson of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, to consider opposing the spending bill. To ease their concerns, Bloomberg reports, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner promised tight oversight of the policy.

Geithner promised that "the representatives of only a narrow class of businesses would be eligible, under a new general license, to travel to Cuba." That satisfied Menendez, who had worried business visas would be exploited for general travel, as well as Nelson, both of whom ultimately backed the bill.

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