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White House Posts Comprehensive Changes To Trade Regulations With Cuba

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Obama administration has just made it a lot easier for U.S. companies to do business in Cuba and for airlines and cruise operators to service the island. One expert describes the regulations published today as the most comprehensive change to the U.S. embargo in decades. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As the administration posted new regulations easing restrictions on travel and trade to Cuba, John Kavulich offered some examples of how this could lead to a U.S. business presence on the island.

JOHN KAVULICH: A Home Depot, a Verizon store, United Airlines ticket office, a UPS drop-off location.

KELEMEN: Kavulich, who runs the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, calls it a seismic change, saying U.S. companies will now be able to open offices, create joint ventures, hire Cuban nationals and pay their leases.

KAVULICH: For those who oppose President Obama's initiative, this is a Pepto-Bismol moment. But at the same time, it's a Pepto-Bismol moment for the Cuban government because this places the Cuban government under pressures that it hasn't seen before.

KELEMEN: He says the Cuban government will either have to allow this or explain to the Cuban people why not. The U.S. commerce secretary says the idea behind this is to promote Cuba's emerging private sector. But Mauricio Claver-Carone, of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, says there's a problem with that argument.

MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONE: Every single trade and commercial transaction with Cuba has to be done through an entity owned and operated by the Cuban dictatorship. And until that changes we can continue to talk about and we can continue to discuss how to help the Cuban people, but it's that monopoly that needs to be broken.

KELEMEN: He worries that the increased trade and travel will only support the Cuban government's control of the economy. And while the Obama administration argues that this new opening should promote changes on the island, Claver-Carone says, so far, there's been more political arrests and more Cubans trying to flee. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.