By Jack Fink

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Ernesto Velez gives customers a taste of Cuba every time they visit his Havana Café.

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Velez believes the United States’ relaxed travel restrictions to his native country of Cuba will ultimately improve the lives of millions of people there. “I think it’s great and exciting news for me, my family, and my Cuban people,” he said.

Under the new rules starting Friday, Velez will be able to send more money to relatives back home — up from $2,000 a year to $8,000 a year.

Velez says he must send money to his family every month. “Well, for me, it’s important they can eat better, they can have better standards.” He says the basic necessities of food, clothing, shoes can be difficult to find.

Dallas art gallery owner Erin Cluley is among those recruiting 12 people to visit Havana during that city’s contemporary art show in May. Excitedly she said, “We are thrilled with the trip.”

Cluley already sells movie posters from Cuba and they plan to visit Cuban artists. “The ultimate goal is to show Cuban artists in Dallas.”

As for Velez, he came to the U.S. 20 years ago. He played the trombone for a Cuban group, and a musical tour to Panama back then, was instrumental in his escape.

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“I just decided not to go back,” he remembered. “Just got out of the hotel and said bye-bye. It was difficult.”

Critics blast the new eased U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba saying they don’t require Cuba’s communist government to change at all. But Velez says at least it’s a breaking of the ice.

Click here for more information, from Erin Cluley, about taking a trip to Cuba.

Follow Jack on Twitter: @cbs11jack

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