First Americans in Cuba under easier US travel rules

HAVANA,  (Reuters) – The first group of Americans to  tour Cuba under new, more liberal U.S. travel regulations have  been greeted by hugs, handshakes and a welcoming Cuban  government, according to a trip organizer.

The 30 travelers are pioneers in a new era of  “people-to-people” exchanges the Obama administration approved  in January to “enhance the free flow of information” to Cubans  and over the objections of those who favor a continued  hard-line against the communist government.

About 30 to 35 travel groups are believed to have obtained  licenses so far under the new regulations, which reinstate  rules put in place by President Bill Clinton in 1999, but  revoked by his successor, President George W. Bush in 2003.

The first group of travelers have been to orphanages,  medical facilities, art museums, music performances and tobacco  farms and have walked the streets of Old Havana, in a first  taste of the forbidden fruit that Cuba has been for five  decades under the U.S. trade embargo against the country.

Their reactions, said Tom Popper of Insight Cuba, the  travel agency bringing in the group, have varied widely.

“Some people are amazed by what they see and astonished by  the people and the culture and everything around them,” he told  Reuters this week.

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