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U.S. lifts restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars

U.S. lifts restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars

Posted by PanamericanWorld on October 14, 2016

The Obama administration announced on Friday more changes aimed at easing travel and trade restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

One of the key ones calls for eliminating the $100 limit on the value of Cuban rum and cigars that American travelers can bring back from the island.

In a conference call with reporters, senior administration officials, speaking on background, indicated that the next president would not be wise to undo changes the Obama administration began taking almost two years ago that they say already has made noticeable improvements in the lives of ordinary Cubans on the island.

“The Cuban people continue to be at the center of everything we’re doing,” said senior administration officials.

Asked by reporters in a conference call whether the changes would benefit mainly the Cuban government, officials said they would “have direct and positive benefits” for the Cuban people, “even as it involved the Cuban state.”

Along with the changes on cigars and rum, the administration is also lifting limits on cargo ship travel between the U.S. and Cuba and easing U.S. and Cuban researchers' ability to conduct joint medical research. The measures are contained in a package of relatively small-scale regulatory changes meant to ease U.S. trade with Cuba.

Cuban rum and cigars will now be subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries, meaning most travelers will be able to bring back as many as 100 cigars and several bottles of rum. Because high-end Cuban cigars can sell for more than $100 apiece outside Cuba, every U.S. traveler can now legally bring back many thousands of dollars of Cuban products, potentially generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenue for the Cuban state. 

The previous limit restricted travelers to a combined value of $100 in rum and cigars, although enforcement of the limit notably declined after President Barack Obama declared detente with Cuba in December 2014.

"Challenges remain - and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights - but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values," Obama said in a statement announcing the changes.

Rum and cigar production is entirely government-run under Cuba's centrally planned communist economy.

More than 160,000 American travelers visited Cuba last year and that figure is expected to double this year. Hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans visit family on the island each year and will also be able to take advantage of the new measure, which comes a month and a half before the restart of commercial flights to Havana after more than 50 years.

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