U.S. eases restrictions against trade, travel to Cuba ahead of Obama visit

The Obama administration announced major changes Tuesday to decades-old sanctions against Cuba that will allow for "person-to-person" educational travel and open U.S. financial institutions to Cuban nationals.

The changes, which will take effect Wednesday, were announced just days before President Barack Obama was scheduled to embark on a historic two-day trip to Havana. They come more than one year since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro said they would work to normalize relations between the countries.

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Among the changes, the U.S. Department of State and Transportation said it would allow for up to 110 non-stop flights daily between America and Cuba, a move the White House said would "significantly increase the ability of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba to directly engage with the Cuban people."

It has been more than five decades since passenger flights have traveled between America and Cuba. Educational trips have been allowed but only in the form of often expensive group trips.

Going forward, Americans will be able to travel to the island nation with the stipulation that they fill out a form proclaiming the trip is for educational purposes and not tourism.

"Today's steps build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial friends, and chart a new course in U.S.-Cuba relations," said U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob L. Lew.

The White House also announced it will allow U.S. banks to handle transactions from the Cuban government. The earlier ban was reportedly one of the biggest complaints about the U.S. trade embargo in the country, as it crippled Cuba's ability to trade internationally.

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