Obama Administration Plans to Sidestep Congress on Cuba Travel

Travel to Cuba would be as easy as travel to any other part of the world.

ByABC News
August 18, 2015, 12:04 PM

— -- Travel to Cuba could soon be nearly as easy as travel to any other part of the world.

The Obama administration plans to unilaterally ease the travel restrictions to Cuba, sources told ABC News.

The new measures would bypass limits on travel imposed by Congress by changing regulations at the executive level.

Talks are already underway between the Federal Aviation Administration and Cuban aviation authorities to resume regularly scheduled non-charter or commercial flights between the two countries.

And ABC News has learned that the Treasury Department is now considering new regulations that would allow all Americans to travel to Cuba as individuals and not in tour groups or with other third-party arrangers.

These two changes are being developed separately by the two U.S. government agencies but, when complete, would allow Americans to book tickets to the island nation without going by charter. Those are now the only flights from the United States to Cuba because of restrictions by the embargo.

While no specific timetable exists for the aviation agreement, it could come as soon as the end of the year.

Americans going to Cuba would still have to fall into one of the 12 pre-approved licenses to travel, but would merely attest to compliance on-line or at the airport as they buy a ticket. No special visa would be required.

ABC News has also learned Obama plans to loosen credit to Cuba so the country, which has little hard currency, can buy U.S. goods, especially agriculture. Right now it's legal to sell food to Cuba but they have to pay cash.

The president also plans on unilaterally giving banks cover to allow use of credit cards, which already is supposed to be happening but is not because banks have been cautious.

While American Express and MasterCard announced they would allow their cards to be used on the island, no Cuban bank has authorization, meaning those traveling from America must still pay in cash.

A bill was introduced in Congress earlier this year to lift the travel embargo but has yet to move through committee.

Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC News last week in Havana he'd urge Americans to take advantage of travel exemptions currently available, saying it is for “anybody’s benefit.”

“There is no question that the administration decision to do this is based on our notion that Americans getting to know Cubans and Cubans getting to know Americans,” Kerry added. “And really beginning to travel more and to be engaged is the way in fact that a transformation is going to be infected. And so if people want to be a part of that or not it is up to them. But we certainly think it is a fascinating time here and a fascinating time to be engaged.”

All of the changes are part of the Obama administrations goal to affect change in Cuba through contact with Americans.