A pedicab ("bicitaxi" in Cuba) with a national flag of the United States is seen in Havana, on Jan. 7, 2015.
Yamil Lage—AFP/Getty Images
By Noah Rayman
January 15, 2015

The United States announced Thursday that it was easing restrictions on travel and commerce in Cuba, in the first step of President Barack Obama’s plan to thaw relations between the two countries.

The new measures, which take effect on Friday, authorize airlines to fly to Cuba and allow Americans to visit Cuba without first obtaining a special license if they are traveling for any of more than a dozen reasons, including family visits, journalism and sports. They also expand the list of goods that can be exported to Cuba and authorize financial institutions to operate more widely in Cuba.

The announcement on Thursday marked the first tangible step by the U.S. to normalize relations between the two countries since Obama unexpectedly began the shift in policy last month after decades of tension with Cuba.

“Today’s announcement takes us one step closer to replacing out-of-date policies that were not working and puts in place a policy that helps promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement.

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