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New guidelines issued for travel to Cuba

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday issued new guidelines for travel to Cuba, more than three months after President Obama announced he would loosen restrictions that bar most Americans from legally visiting the Communist island.

The action frees up U.S. organizations to apply for new licenses to organize Cuba trips and also clarifies which U.S. citizens may travel to Cuba without applying for a Treasury Department license. Most Americans, however, are still barred from legally visiting Cuba, except for specific purposes that are outlined in the guidelines. (Technically, it’s not illegal for Americans to visit Cuba. They just can’t spend money there, under a longstanding U.S. trade embargo.)

The biggest change in the rules, which were announced in January by Obama,  is restoring licenses for so-called people-to-people educational exchanges, which the Bush administration had suspended several years ago. These rather broadly worded licenses had opened up Cuba travel to far more Americans.

When such licenses were in effect, Global Exchange, a San Francisco nonprofit, was sending nearly 2,000 people a year to Cuba for a range of programs -- bicycle tours as well as language programs -- said Malia Everette, director of the Reality Tours division. After the licenses were suspended, that fell to fewer than 100 in 2004, she said.

Reality Tours was waiting for the Treasury Department to issue the new guidelines so that it could apply for a new license and advertise new trips to Cuba, she said.

Other changes announced by Obama affect rules for educational travel, religiously oriented travel and journalism-related travel, among other types of travel to Cuba. The changes also expand the number of airports allowed to provide charter air service to Cuba.

Other Cuba stories:

Fidel Castro official removed as head of Cuban Communist Party

Cuba convenes Congress to shape nation's future

U.S. opens the door further on travel to Cuba

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