Obama Eases Cuba Travel, Money Restrictions By VOA News 13 April 2009 President Barack Obama has ordered his administration to take steps to ease limits on family travel and remittances from the United States to Cuba. A White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, made the announcement Monday during a briefing with reporters. He said President Obama is working to fulfill the goals he identified both during his presidential campaign and since taking office. Officials say one step being taken is allowing U.S. telecommunications companies to apply for licenses to provide cell phone and television services to people on the island. During his election campaign, Mr. Obama pledged to ease restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to the island and sending money to relatives. He also has said he would be willing to speak with Cuba's leaders, but that he would maintain the long-standing trade embargo on Cuba as leverage to push for democratic change on the island. Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is open to talks with Mr. Obama. Another step being taken is expanding the items allowed in gift packages to Cuba, such as clothing, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing gear and other personal necessities. This policy shift comes just days before President Obama visits Trinidad and Tobago to attend the Summit of the Americas. Several days ago, a Democratic Party delegation made up of members of the Congressional Black Caucus visited Cuba and met with President Raul Castro and his brother, former President Fidel Castro. One member of that delegation, Representative Barbara Lee, later said the long-standing U.S. embargo has not worked and that it is time to look at a new direction in U.S. policy toward Cuba. The embargo has been in place since the early 1960s. Two Republicans in Congress, Christopher Smith and Frank Wolf, criticized the Democratic lawmakers for not visiting political prisoners in Cuba during their visit. The Republican lawmakers urged the Obama administration to demand that Cuba free all political prisoners before there is any lifting of sanctions or freeing up of travel to the island. Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.