HAVANA – Cuba said Sunday that the Obama Administration's decision to lift some travel restrictions on students, academics and religious groups and make it easier for Americans to send money were positive steps, but not nearly enough while Washington maintains its 48-year trade embargo on the island.
The changes announced last week mean that students seeking academic credit and churches and synagogues traveling for religious purposes will be able to go to Cuba. Any U.S. international airport with proper customs and immigration facilities will be able to offer charter services to the island.
The plan will also let any American send as much as $2,000 a year to Cuban citizens who are not part of the Castro administration and are not members of the Communist Party. Previously, only relatives could send money.
"Though the measures are positive," Cuba's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday, "they are well below what was hoped for, have a limited reach and do not change (U.S.) policy against Cuba."
The ministry said most of the changes simply bring U.S. policy back to where it was during the Clinton Administration, before President George W. Bush toughened restrictions. They do not alter Washington's trade embargo, which Cuba refers to as a "blockade."
"These measures confirm that there is no will to change the policy of blockade and destabilization against Cuba," the ministry said. "If there exists a real interest in widening and facilitating contacts between our peoples, the United States should lift the blockade and eliminate the restrictions that make Cuba the only country in the world to which North Americans cannot travel."
Under the embargo, American tourists are still prohibited from visiting Cuba and most trade with the island is barred.
Obama had previously made it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit family and send money home, and cultural exchanges had greatly expanded under his watch. Still, relations between the Cold War enemies remain frosty, in particular over the detention of an American subcontractor held in Cuba since December 2009 on suspicion of spying.
The changes, announced by the White House on Friday, will be put in place within two weeks. They do not need congressional approval.