US expands Cuba telecoms and travel links ahead of Obama visit

US expands Cuba telecoms and travel links ahead of Obama visit
By Euronews with Reuters
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Days before President Obama visits Cuba, the US further loosens travel restrictions and Verizon signs a deal with Cuba's state telecoms agency for direct calls and roaming.


Just days before President Barack Obama is due to visit Cuba, US phone company Verizon has signed a deal with Cuba’s state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa for direct calls and roaming access for Verizon’s customers.

Until recently the US trade embargo of Cuba meant phone calls were mostly routed through third-party countries, adding to the expense and reducing the quality.

Etecsa reached a similar deal with US carrier Sprint last November and is reportedly close to an agreement with AT&T.

Washington has just further loosened travel restrictions on Cuba so that Americans no longer only have to visit the island in group tours for so-called “people-to-people educational travel”.

It has also eased limits on the use of US dollars in trade transactions there and will allow Cuban nationals working in the US to open bank accounts there and send money back home.

The latest package marks one of the most significant changes since Obama announced the reestablishing of diplomatic ties with Cuba after decades of hostility between the two countries.

“Today’s steps build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial freedoms, and chart a new course in US-Cuba relations,” US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement.

One US official said Washington hopes this latest package of regulatory changes will provide additional incentives for Havana to make economic and trade reforms of its own.

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