UPDATE 5-Obama measures on Cuba trade, travel poke new holes in embargo
(Adds United Airlines planning flights to Cuba, paragraph 5)
By Anna Yukhananov, Matt Spetalnick and Krista Hughes
WASHINGTON Jan 15 (Reuters) - The United States announced sweeping new rules on Thursday that will significantly ease sanctions on Cuba, opening up the communist-ruled island to expanded U.S. travel, trade and financial activities.
Defying hardline critics in Congress, President Barack Obama made good on his commitment last month to loosen restrictions on dealings with Cuba as part of an historic effort to end decades of hostility.
The U.S. embargo on Cuba, in place for 54 years, will remain. Only Congress can lift it.
But the package of regulations issued by the Treasury and Commerce Departments, which will take effect on Friday, will allow U.S. exports of telecommunications, agricultural and construction equipment, permit more travel by Americans to the island and open banking relations.
U.S. airlines will also be permitted to expand flights to the Caribbean island, beyond the existing chartered flights that connect Cuba and the United States. United Airlines Inc said on Thursday it planned to serve Cuba from Houston and Newark, New Jersey, subject to government approvals. Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways said they would look into adding services.
Thursday's moves were the first tangible U.S. steps to implement economic changes Obama pledged on Dec. 17 when he and Cuban President Raul Castro announced plans to restore diplomatic relations between the old Cold War foes.
"Today's announcement takes us one step closer to replacing out-of-date policies that were not working, and puts in place a policy that helps promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people," said U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. Continuación...