US relaxes Cuba trade, travel rules ahead of Obama visit

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US relaxes Cuba trade, travel rules ahead of Obama visit
Refrigerator magnets are displayed for sale in a tourist shop, several showing images of U.S. President Barack Obama, at a market in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. President Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A taxi pedals his bicycle, decorated with Cuban and U.S. flags, as he transports a woman holding a sleeping girl, near the Capitolio in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A fighting rooster wearing a leash on its ankle waits in the sun for its owner in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A youth fishes by hand using fishing line on the shores of Regla, as commuters cross the bay by ferry to Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. People who fish here tend to catch small sardines and a fish known as "bonito." U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
An artisan who goes by the nickname Buby displays several refrigerator magnets of U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for sale at a souvenir shop in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. Obama is traveling to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A classic American convertible sits parked outside the National Theatre where U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to speak during his upcoming trip, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20 for a trip that will mark a watershed moment in U.S.-Cuba relations, making Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
A taxi driving a classic American car passes a billboard that reads in Spanish: "Long live free Cuba" in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. The trip will mark a watershed moment in U.S.-Cuba relations, making Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
A "quinceanera" poses during her photo session in front of the cathedral as tourists line up to enter the building, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Tourists walk next to an weathered old photo of Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A man enters a building that has a mural with the face of a woman, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
An elderly woman attends an outdoor Tai Chi session in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Workers repair the street in front of the Capitolio in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A youth fishes by hand using fishing line on the shores of Regla, as commuters cross the bay by ferry to Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. People who fish here tend to catch small sardines and a fish known as "bonito." U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
The artisan called "Buby" displays several refrigerator magnets showing images of U.S. President Barack Obama, for sale in a tourist shop in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 14, 2016. President Barack Obama is traveling to Cuba on March 20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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WASHINGTON -- The United States on Tuesday announced it would further loosen travel restrictions on Cuba and ease limits on the use of U.S. dollars in trade transactions there just days ahead of President Barack Obama's historic visit to the former Cold War enemy.

The new rules reinforce Obama's move away from the long-standing U.S. economic embargo against Cuba by using his executive powers to sidestep U.S. lawmakers who so far have refused to lift sanctions toward the Communist-ruled country.

The changes allow Cubans to open U.S. bank accounts and authorize those living in the Unites States to earn a salary or compensation, the U.S. government said. They also allow individuals to visit the island for "people-to-people educational travel," instead of requiring them to go in group tours.

The easing comes as Obama prepares to travel on March 20-22 to Cuba, 90 miles (145 km) from Florida's coast. No sitting U.S. president has visited Cuba in the last 88 years.

The latest package marks one of the most significant changes since Obama announced this historic opening to Cuba in December 2014 after decades of hostility between the two countries.

"Today's steps build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial freedoms, and chart a new course in U.S.-Cuba relations," U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement.

Although as many as 20 members of Congress are set to travel with the president starting on Sunday, the Republican-led body has not moved to support Obama's policy shift by lifting sanctions.

Instead, the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments said in a statement they would enact a range of changes to provide access to U.S. financial transactions for Cubans as well as broaden access to the island for others.

The new rules will increase ability of Cubans in United States to earn stipends and salaries beyond living expenses, the departments said. The changes also allow humanitarian and other entities supporting the Cuban people to establish a presence there, they said.

The administration earlier eased rules to allow scheduled air service between the two countries.

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