Lonely Planet Writer

Tourism ban still stands as Obama reopens US-Cuba diplomatic ties

Trinidad beach, Cuba.
Trinidad beach, Cuba. Image by anymouse1 / CC BY-SA 2.0

After a diplomatic and economic freeze lasting more than half a century, US President Barack Obama has struck a historic deal with Cuban leader Raúl Castro to end years of hostility and mistrust between the two countries. The long-expected move paves the way for more US citizens to travel to Cuba, however the US tourism ban has not been lifted. Similarly, the embargo that prevents US companies from operating in Cuba is still in place, meaning travelers to Cuba shouldn’t expect to see American retailers on the streets of Havana any time soon. Following the announcement that diplomatic relations will be reopened, Raúl Castro has called for the US to ditch the embargo, but Obama needs congressional approval to remove it.

The restoration of full diplomatic relations was in part brokered by Pope Francis and the Vatican, who focused on Guatanamo bay and humanitarian issues. The news came hours after the release of US citizen Alan Gross, who has been returned to US soil after five years in a Cuban jail. The big thaw will see the resurrection of a US embassy in Havana and will also pave the way for some Cuban exports to America. As part of the deal, travel rights are set to be expanded for the 12 categories of people who already qualify for either the general or specific licence required for US citizens to travel legally in Cuba.

The US will now review whether Cuba is still considered ‘a state sponsor of terrorism’, which represents a major step towards normalising relations between the two countries. If Congress allows Obama to remove the travel restrictions denying US tourists access to Cuba, it is expected up to 10 million American visitors could descend on Cuba.

Read more: theguardian.com