The Obama administration eased rules Friday for U.S. citizens wishing to travel to Cuba or do business with its growing ranks of independent entrepreneurs, hoping to kindle greater economic freedom on the island.
The Treasury and Commerce departments told the Associated Press that regulations taking effect today simplify procedures for tourism, telephone and Internet investments, and money transfers to Cuba.
Authorized American citizens now will be able to travel by cruise ship or ferry to Cuba without seeking specific authorization from the U.S. government, although a U.S. official told the Associated Press that a direct maritime route probably won't be established until next year.
The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the process and demanded anonymity.
Many U.S. travelers still need to go on supervised group trips. Routine airline service has not satisfied various federal conditions. Cruise ships and ferries are still trying to finalize regular maritime routes with Cuban authorities.
Credit card and other companies still can't transfer payments to Cuba. Telecommunications companies have not been able to set up shop and get equipment to the island 90 miles south of Florida. And Cuba's government is not running its Internet connections anywhere near capacity levels.
The Friday rule change will increase the number and types of trips that American planes and boats can make to and from the island, according to The Hill.
People authorized to travel to Cuba will also be able to open and maintain bank accounts there and will be able to have their close relatives tag along for additional types of activities.