Obama eases up on restrictions for Cuba.
President Barack Obama opened a crack on Monday in a decades-old U.S. embargo of communist Cuba, allowing U.S. telecommunications firms to start doing business there and relaxing other restrictions on the island.
As part of a major shift from the Bush administration's more hardline approach to Havana, Obama lifted limits on family travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans in the United States to Cuba.
The decisions unveiled by the White House do not eliminate Washington's trade embargo against Cuba set up 47 years ago, but it does hold out the prospect for improving ties between the two longtime foes.
"The president has directed that a series of steps be taken to reach out to the Cuban people to support their desire to enjoy basic human rights," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. "These are actions he has taken to open up the flow of information."
Administration officials said Obama hoped the new measures would encourage Cuba's one-party state to implement democratic reforms long demanded by Washington as a condition for removing sanctions imposed after Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
Shares of companies that stand to gain from a thaw in U.S. ties with Cuba soared on the news, led by Canadian mining and energy company Sherritt International, a major player in Cuba's nickel and oil industry, whose stock rose 24.5 percent.