Doug Stanglin | USA TODAY | March 17, 2016
The first direct U.S. mail service to Cuba in more than 50 years this week included a personal letter from President Obama to a 76-year-old Cuban pen pal.
The presidential missive was among a batch of mail that went out on a flight to Cuba on Wednesday, according to the White House.
The U.S. Postal Service said Thursday that it now offers a full-range of mail service to the island nation, including first-class letters, packages and even Priority Mail International.
Until now, mailing items to Cuba was a complicated, highly regulated process that made it difficult for Americans to ship letters or items to friends or relatives there. Most shipments went through third-party countries, such as Canada and Mexico.
“Moving letter mail and package volume directly between our countries will improve service for businesses and consumers,” Postmaster General and CEO Megan J. Brennan said.
The latest sign of the warming of relations between the two countries comes three days before Obama’s trip to Cuba in the first visit by a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge attended the Pan American Conference in Havana in 1928.
Obama kicked off the new direct mail service with the letter to a Cuban woman who has written him several times in recent years, the White House said Thursday.
In her most recent note in February, Ileana Yarza invited the president to stop in for coffee during his two-day visit, according to Tanya Somanader, of the White House Office of Digital Strategy, a non-snail-mail operation.
“Thank you for your kind words,” Obama wrote back. “I appreciate your support over the years, and I hope this note — which will reach you by way of the first direct mail flight between the United States and Cuba in over 50 years — serves as a reminder of a bright new chapter in the relationship between our two nations.”
President Dwight Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Havana in 1960 and imposed a trade embargo following the imposition of harsh new economic measures by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including nationalization of all U.S. businesses in Cuba without compensation, the hiking of taxes on U.S. imports and establishment of close trade relations with the Soviet Union.
While the trade embargo, which is controlled by Congress, remains in effect, Obama has re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, eliminated most travel restrictions to the island and re-opened the U.S. Embassy in Havana.