Bowing to protests from the travel industry and lawmakers, the US Treasury on Friday agreed to extend by a month to July 31 a deadline forcing thousands of Cuban Americans visiting relatives in Cuba to return to the United States.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on June 16 published rules which obliged thousands of Americans visiting relatives on the island to return before June 30 or face fines of up to USD$55,000.
The office, which enforces the four-decade long Cuba embargo, posted the extension on its web site, authorizing US citizens or residents who are in Cuba on June 29 to stay until July 31.
The ruling will “give people who are currently in Cuba and subject to the country’s information embargo the necessary time to make appropriate travel arrangements off the island,” said Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise.
Lawmakers and travel industry representatives had said the original regulations gave air charter companies too little notice to inform passengers, many in remote rural areas, that they had to return before the end of June.
Air charter companies had said they faced big losses by flying empty aircraft to Cuba to pick up passengers rushing to beat the June 30 deadline.
“The administration clearly recognized that the hastily developed and poorly implemented amended regulations had angered many Cuban Americans and Members of Congress, as well as placed an immense burden on charter operators providing legal travel to Cuba,” said Jody Frisch, executive director of ATRIP - USA*Engage Alliance, an industry group that wants the Cuba travel ban removed.
The rules aim to hasten the fall of the Communist government of Fidel Castro by cutting the flow of tourist money to the island.
Americans will be able to visit their relatives in Cuba once every three years instead of once every year, and take less money and baggage there.
They will also be able to visit immediate relatives only, like parents and siblings, and their stay is capped at two weeks.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro called the measures “pitiless and inhumane.” Rep. Jim Davis, a Florida Democrat, introduced legislation in Congress to overturn the restrictions completely, saying President George W Bush’s “misguided regulations harm countless innocent Cubans.”