Washington says it will expand flights to Cuba, take steps to loosen restrictions on US visitors to the island and lift Trump-era restrictions on remittances that immigrants can send to people on the island.

US will lift the current limit of $1,000 per quarter for each sender, and also allow non-family remittances to
US will lift the current limit of $1,000 per quarter for each sender, and also allow non-family remittances to "support independent Cuban entrepreneurs." (Reuters Archive)

The United States has said it is easing restrictions imposed during former president Donald Trump's administration on travel to Cuba and sending of family remittances between the United States and the communist island.

"The Cuban people are confronting an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and our policy will continue to focus on empowering the Cuban people to help them create a future free from repression and economic suffering," the State Department said on Monday.

The loosening of the embargo on Cuba will see increased visa processing, including at the Havana consulate, but with most visas still handled at the US embassy in Guyana.

The statement said it will "facilitate educational connections" between the two countries, as well as support for professional research including "support for expanded internet access and remittance process companies."

To boost the flow of remittances, the US government will lift the current limit of $1,000 per quarter for each sender, and also allow non-family remittances to "support independent Cuban entrepreneurs."

READ MORE: US, Cuba hold first high-level talks in four years, discuss migration

Cuba says 'small step in right direction'

The US easing of restrictions against Cuba is "a small step in the right direction," the country's minister of foreign affairs said.

However, the measures do "not modify the embargo" in place since 1962 and "neither the objectives nor the main instruments of the United States' policy against Cuba, which is a failure, are changing," Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Twitter.

US Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of President Joe Biden's Democratic Party, denounced the lifting of some restrictions, saying that the Cuban regime "continues its ruthless persecution of countless Cubans from all walks of life" following unprecedented street protests last year.

The easing of travel "risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons," he said in a statement. 

"Those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial. For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed."

The thaw comes in the wake of a series of mysterious illnesses suffered by US personnel and family members in Cuba in what has become to be known as "Havana Syndrome."

US officials say they have yet to determine exactly what happened in the incidents but a senior official told reporters that there is an "appropriate security posture."

READ MORE: Cuba accuses US of seeking to destabilise the country

Source: AFP