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The Obama administration’s historic move to ease U.S. restrictions on Cuba will likely lead to an increase in commercial flights to the island nation.

The Obama administration had already begun to ease some flight restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba early in his tenure, but the president said Wednesday that he was moving to allow even more travel between the countries, which have been engaged in a stalemate for more than 50 years. 

“We are taking steps to increase travel, commerce and the flow of information to and from Cuba,” President Obama said during remarks in the White House Cabinet Room. 

“This is fundamentally about freedom and openness and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement,” he continued. 

The Obama administration started approving flights between airports like New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in the president’s first term. 

The move to Wednesday to further normalize relations with Cuba will include permitting every type of travel possible under existing legislation, according to administration officials.

The administration cannot completely lift the travel ban, which would require an act of Congress, but a senior administration official said the White House will be “authorizing as much travel as we possibly can.” 

Obama said Wednesday that he was trying to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba because the restrictions that have been in place for five decades have failed to produce changes in the island nation. 

“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Obama said.  “It’s time for a new approach.” 

Obama said allowing more Americans to travel to Cuba would do more to thaw relations between the country and the U.S. than any additional bans could. 

“Nobody represents America’s values better than the American people,” Obama said. “And I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people. I also believe that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people.” 

— Justin Sink contributed to this report.

Tags Barack Obama Cuba Travel ban

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