The Florida Roundup: White House Eases Cuba Regulations On Eve Of Pope's Arrival

Sep 21, 2015

Just as Cuba prepares for its first papal visit in 17 years -- one laden with questions of human rights, religious devotion and the future of normalizing relations -- the Obama administration released a new set of trade rules Friday morning in an effort to further thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.

The rules will take effect Monday, and aim to weaken the U.S. trade embargo imposed on the island nation since 1962.

The new rules will focus on facilitating business transactions between the two countries by easing travel restrictions and allowing some businesses to operate offices on the island -- for authorized purposes only.

And when Pope Francis makes his two-and-a-half day visit to the island starting Sunday, eased regulations will likely to be part of the conversation, says WLRN Americas Editor Tim Padgett. The pope is credited with influencing the decision to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. 

That, as well as his position as the first Latin American pope, has created an expectation that he'll further his involvement in the movement to open Cuba. 

The visit also promises to further bridge ties between the island and the Catholic church, which for many years was suppressed in Cuba. The island nation was declared atheist after Castro's 1959 revolution in an effort to abide by the communist party's Marxist ideals and remained that way until the 1990s. 

And while thousands of Cubans are expected to attend the masses held around the island during the papal visit, few are devout Catholics who look at the trip only through the lens of religion. For many of the non-practicing Cuban Catholics, the visit is about something they've likely not seen for decades: hope.