- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2016

The Obama administration on Friday announced it’s lifting a limit on Cuban cigars and rum brought into the country by Americans travelers returning home.

Effective Monday, U.S. citizens will no longer be restricted to returning with $100 or less in Cuban cigars and rum as the result of new amendments unveiled by the Treasury Department this week as the White House continues on its path toward normalizing relations with its Caribbean neighbor.

Accompanied by new rules pertaining to bilateral medical research and other scientific endeavors, the latest measures come less than two years after President Obama began announced plans to repair a relationship that has witnessed decades of disputes, sanctions and embargoes.

“President Obama’s historic announcement in December 2014 charted a new course for a stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement. “The Treasury Department has worked to break down economic barriers in areas such as travel, trade and commerce, banking and telecommunications.”

“More commercial activity between the U.S. and Cuba benefits our people and our economies,” added U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

Specifically, the Treasury said its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is removing monetary value limitations pertaining to imports brought to the U.S. in the baggage of American travelers returning to Cuba. The limit will officially be lifted once the announcement is formally published in the Federal Register on Monday, and it applies to the current value limitation on alcohol and tobacco products.

“In all cases, the Cuban-origin goods must be imported for personal use, and normal limits on duty and tax exemptions will apply,” the notice said.

Additionally, U.S. citizens will be allowed to participate in medical research projects with Cuban nations and return home with FDA-approved, Cuban-origin pharmaceuticals.

“Today’s action builds on this progress by enabling more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contact and private sector growth. These steps have the potential to accelerate constructive change and unlock greater economic opportunity for Cubans and Americans.” Mr. Lew said.

Engage Cuba, a bipartisan nonprofit that opposes travel and trade embargoes on the country, applauded the decision in a statement Friday for its potential to bring together Cubans and Americans, especially regarding health care.

“Today’s announcement will build on the progress that has been made to further strengthen the ties between our two nations that have opened opportunities for U.S. companies in Cuba, empowered the Cuban people, and made it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit their loved ones,” Engage Cuba President James Williams said in a statement. 

“U.S. companies have the resources needed to work with Cuba to develop innovative testing and discover new treatments. This change in U.S. policy could literally save lives. Now it’s time for Congress to lift the U.S. embargo that is stifling innovation in healthcare.”

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