Delsa Bernardo was ready to pop rolls in the oven at Yiya's Gourmet Cuban Bakery when she heard the news: After years of separation, she could finally visit her 80-year-old aunt in Cuba, any time she wanted.
Like many Cuban-Americans, Bernardo celebrated President Barack Obama's decision Monday to break from a half-century of U.S. policy toward the communist country and lift restrictions on visiting relatives there and sending money to them.
In a further sign of openness, the White House also announced it would allow U.S. firms to seek telecommunications business there.
"This is fantastic for me. I can actually go see my father's sister. She's my last living relative there," said Bernardo, 47, who came to the U.S. when she was 5 and has never been back.
Although the change is measured—travel is still limited for the rest of Americans and a wide-reaching trade embargo remains in place—the White House portrayed the move as a path to promoting personal freedom in one of the few remaining communist nations.
The changes, first proposed during Obama's presidential campaign, marked another major step away from the foreign policy priorities of the Bush administration.
But the moves fell far short of more drastic policy adjustments that some—including Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana—have argued are required to promote U.S. interests in Latin America and change Cuba.
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For most Americans, Cuba remains the only country in the world their government prohibits them from visiting—a barrier to potential travelers as well as to the Cuban tourist industry that would like to host them.
Across Florida and New Jersey, home to the nation's largest Cuban exile communities, news of the changes traveled fast.
"So many people have been calling," said Ofelia Gutierrez, a Cuban immigrant and the manager of Costamar Travel in Union City, N.J. "They are really excited about it, asking 'Is it true we can go?"'
Gutierrez does worry the Cuban government will skim off any increased money sent home to family members.
"But overall, it's going to bring families together," said U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who fled Cuba as a teenager in the early 1960s and was separated from his parents for years until they were allowed leave the island.
Martinez was particularly pleased about allowing telecommunications firms to do business on the island. That could include contracts to lay fiberoptic cable lines and vastly improve Cuba's Internet and telephone capabilities to open communication with the rest of the world.
Miami attorney Joe Garcia, long an advocate of easing travel restrictions, said the ability to send more money to the island would let Cuban-Americans directly support civil society there, rather than being forced to channel their money through a few U.S.-government sanctioned aid groups.