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Obama eases curbs on Cuba travel

US President Barack Obama has lifted some restrictions that will allow Cuban Americans to travel more freely to Cuba, his spokesman has said. Cuban-Americans will also be allowed to send more money to relatives in Cuba.

The move, announced by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, comes after Mr Obama last month signed a spending bill easing some economic sanctions on Cuba.

Mr Gibbs said the aim was to promote democracy and human rights on the Caribbean island.

"The president has directed the secretaries of state, treasury and commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba and to send them remittances," said Mr Gibbs.

The changes fulfilled a pledge made by Mr Obama during his presidential campaign and would help bridge the gap between divided Cuban families, he added.

The US had imposed a commercial blockade on Cuba since the Communist revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959.

Regional summit

Restrictions would also be lifted on US telecommunications companies applying for licenses to operate in Cuba, Mr Gibbs added.

A Cuban man sits in front of a large Cuban flag
Cuban-Americans are eager to help their families in Cuba

That move could open the way for a greater flow of information onto the island via the internet, says the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Washington, although much will depend on the attitude of the Cuban government itself.

"The president would like to see greater freedom for the Cuban people," said Mr Gibbs.

"There are actions that he can and has taken today to open up the flow of information to provide some important steps to help that."

The move comes as Mr Obama prepares for a summit with regional leaders in Trinidad later this week.

The US president has indicated he would be open to dialogue with Cuba's leaders.

But he has said that, like previous American presidents, he will only consider a full lifting of the US embargo once Cuba's communist government makes significant moves such as the holding of democratic elections.

Cuba's President Raul Castro has said he is prepared to negotiate with the new US administration, providing there are no preconditions.

President Obama clearly believes that engagement may yet achieve what the half-century embargo never did, says our correspondent: real political change in Cuba.

But there is no talk for the moment of opening diplomatic relations or of lifting the general trade embargo, he adds.

Environment