US to announce further easing of Cuba restrictions on March 17

President Barack Obama's administration will announce further measures to ease travel and trade restrictions on Cuba on March 17, ahead of his historic visit to the Communist-ruled island this month, US congressional sources said on March 8.

The new rules will mark the latest effort by Obama to use his executive powers to sidestep the US Congress and chip away at the more than half-century-old US economic embargo against Cuba.

The anticipated announcement appears timed as a gesture toward Cuba just days before Obama flies to Havana for a March 21-22 visit in another step aimed at ending decades of animosity between the former Cold War foes. 

It will be the first visit to Cuba by a sitting US president since 1928.

The measures are expected to include changes to make it easier for individual Americans to visit Cuba if they qualify under 12 authorized categories of travel such as educational or cultural visits, as well as further loosening of trade and banking rules, said the sources, who were briefed on the matter by administration officials.

Though details were still being finalized, the package could also include revised regulations on how the US dollar can be used in trade with Cuba, a person familiar with the discussions said. 

US regulations restrict or prohibit the Cuban government from using the dollar for international transactions.

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