WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Treasury announced it has changed its regulations to lift restrictions on the ability of Cuban Americans to visit relatives in Cuba and send them money.
A Treasury Department statement on Thursday said the Office of Foreign Assets Control amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to implement President Barack Obama's April 13 initiative.
The change was made to "reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country's future, promote greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba, and increase the flow of remittances and information to the Cuban people," the statement said.
Obama's move was considered a significant shift in a U.S. policy that had remained largely unchanged for nearly half a century.
According to Thursday's Treasury statement, U.S. travelers may now make unlimited visits to "close relatives," including aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins in Cuba who are Cuban nationals.
In addition, Americans may send unlimited amounts of money to close relatives in Cuba who are Cuban nationals, the statement said. It noted that a separate ban on sending money to prohibited government officials and Cuban Communist Party members remains in effect.
The changes allow telephone communications with people to Cuba but only through non-Cuban providers, according to the statement.
Several key components of America's embargo on the island nation remain unchanged, including restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans of non-Cuban descent.
In April, critics of the move blasted the administration for unilaterally changing what had been a long-settled U.S. policy.
The Castro "dictatorship is one of the most brutal in the world. The U.S. economic embargo must remain in place until tyranny gives way to freedom and democracy," Rep. Connie Mack, R-Florida, said then in a written statement.
Before he was elected president, Obama promised to lower some of the barriers in Cuban-American relations.
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