The Obama administration will also take steps to enhance the flow of information by allowing U.S. telecommunications networks to link the United States and Cuba, and will allow an expansion of humanitarian items that can be sent to the island (including clothing, personal hygiene items and fishing equipment).
It will remain illegal to send items to senior government officials and members of the Communist Party.
While many Latin American leaders applauded these steps, there will still be pressure on Obama from leaders ranging from Mexico's Calderon to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba, imposed by President John F. Kennedy six months after Obama was born.
Tensions were high at the last Summit of the Americas, in Argentina in 2005, and leaders pushed through two days of tough negotiations on trade issues only to come away with little accomplished.
Before the meetings began, Chavez revved up a crowd of 10,000 anti-Bush demonstrators at a rally at a soccer stadium near the summit site, slamming the administration's policies on trade and Cuba, among other issues.
Analysts say that while Chavez is likely to try and stir the pot again this year, his language toward Obama has been much cooler than that toward Bush and his inflammatory rhetoric will not have the same impact as it did in the past.
"Tensions will be lifted just because of what President Obama represents," Cardenas said. "It's not easy for someone like Chavez to portray Obama as imperialist and oppressive, two slogan words when referring to President Bush. Those just don't seem to fit President Obama, they don't seem correct."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that Obama will not avoid Chavez or other leaders who have been critical of the United States, but he did not say if Obama would sit down one-on-one with the Venezuelan president.
"If we didn't sit in the same room with people that were critical of this country, we'd probably be sitting in a room all alone. We certainly wouldn't have gone to Europe," Gibbs said. "But the fact that some people have critical things to say, it hasn't and won't deter the president of the United States from looking for areas of common interests."
ABC News' Jason Ryan contributed to this report.