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NY Times, Oct. 15 2016
Obama, Cementing New Ties With Cuba, Lifts Limits on Cigars and Rum

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Friday moved to cement his administration’s historic opening with Cuba by issuing a sweeping directive that will last beyond his presidency, setting forth a new United States policy to lift the Cold War trade embargo and end a half-century of clandestine plotting against Cuba’s government.

The action formalizes the shift toward normalization that the president unveiled nearly two years ago with the announcement that he and President Raúl Castro of Cuba had secretly agreed to repair their countries’ relationship.

Mr. Obama on Friday also made what aides said were likely his final major modifications to loosen United States sanctions on Cuba before leaving office, including lifting the $100 limit on bringing Cuban rum and cigars into the United States.

It is Mr. Obama’s latest use of executive power to press forward in the face of lingering opposition in Congress to repealing the embargo, this time through a 12-page document that essentially transforms what has been a presidential priority into a set of official mandates that will shape United States policy toward Cuba for decades.

It would take another directive by a future president to reverse the move, but Mr. Obama’s top advisers argued that it would be difficult for a successor to cancel a set of policy changes that are reshaping the way Americans travel to and do business with Cuba.

“This directive takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “Challenges remain — and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights — but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values.”

The policy directive was notable because it was public instead of classified.

“We are not seeking to impose regime change on Cuba,” Mr. Obama said, asserting that “the embargo is outdated and should be lifted.”

As if to underscore a stark shift from decades of United States policy toward Cuba, which were marked by spying and suspicion, the document specifically requires that American-led “democracy programs” — which the Castro government has denounced as secret efforts to destabilize the country — be “transparent.”

“The United States used to have secret plans for Cuba; now our policy is fully out in the open and online for everyone to see and read,” Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, said at a speech in Washington on Friday. "What you see is what you get.”

The sanctions eased on Friday were the sixth round of regulatory changes announced by the Treasury and Commerce Departments aimed at easing travel to Cuba as well as trade and commerce between the United States and the island nation.

The actions built on a series of milestones with Cuba as Mr. Obama’s tenure draws to a close. Last month, he nominated the first United States ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years, following the reopening last year of embassies in Washington and Havana. The first direct commercial flight from the United States reached Cuba in August.
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