Quiet announcement opens door to more Cuba travel

With little fanfare Jan. 14, the White House announced a presidential directive that will make travel and financial assistance to Cuba easier, especially for religious organizations. The changes revert some policies to those of the Clinton administration -- which were reversed under President George W. Bush -- but expands others. Once the regulations governing the changes have been published in the Federal Register -- expected within weeks -- they will make it possible for certain groups and individuals to get the necessary U.S. government licenses for more "purposeful travel." The order explained that "purposeful travel" includes allowing religious organizations to sponsor religious travel as well as educational exchanges for coursework, seminars and "people-to-people" programs, and a greater scope of journalistic activities. "These needed new policies are modest but important steps towards advancing our hopes for a better relationship between our people and the people of Cuba, a relationship which holds great promise of fostering positive and real change in Cuba," said a statement by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace. The changes also will permit any U.S. citizen to send remittances of up to $500 a quarter to non-family members in Cuba to support private economic activities, and will allow remittances to religious institutions for religious activities in Cuba. Another change will allow charter flights to Cuba from any U.S. international airport, instead of just the handful now authorized to manage such trips.