The U.S. agency that enforces Cuba sanctions approved 42 new travel and other service providers this year, compared to none in 2009, in what government officials described as a push sparked by changes in the Obama administration policy and the bureaucracy.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also updated its list of "authorized providers of air, travel and remittance forwarding services to Cuba" four times this year, compared to twice in 2009 and just once in 2008.
The increases were driven both by President Barack Obama's change in policy to allow more U.S. travel to Cuba and OFAC's effort to clear up a backlog of applications for new licenses that had been pending for several months, said one knowledgeable U.S. official.
Obama lifted virtually all restrictions on Cuban Americans' travel to the island last year, overturning a Bush administration ruling that had limited their trips to once every three years.
"It's a little bit of both, policy and bureaucracy," said the official, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the changes. "The people at OFAC had been spending a lot of time [monitoring] the family travel" under the previous administration.
"Not only is this good for people who have been waiting for years to open their businesses, but it allows the U.S. government to address more pressing matters that affect the entire nation," said Vivian Mannerud, president of the Miami-based Airline Brokers Co.
OFAC reports showed the agency issued 11 "new approvals" on March 8, March 24 and March 31, two on April 19 and five on its latest update of the list, issued May 14, which now lists 224 companies licensed to offer travel and remittance services to Cuba.
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