U.S.-Cuba talks on direct mail service proposed for next month

Cuba has proposed that a U.S. government delegation visit Havana next month for a second round of talks since June on resuming direct postal services, interrupted for the past 50 years, knowledgeable officials said Wednesday.

Mail service between the United States and Cuba was cancelled in 1963 as Washington tightened economic sanctions on Havana. Letters and packages now go through third countries such as Mexico, Canada or Panama.

Cuba proposed the talks be held Sept. 16 in Havana, according to the officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the issue. The U.S. Department of State said it had no immediate comment on this report.

Talks on reopening the postal service took place in 2009 in Havana, but the Obama administration cancelled the contacts after U.S. government contractor Alan P. Gross was sentenced to 15 years in a Havana prison for delivering sophisticated communications equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community.

The mail talks were resumed in Washington June 17-18, however, and the following month the two sides also renewed talks on migration issues, considered far more important to the bilateral relations.

After the June talks, the Cuban government declared that those meetings had been satisfactory and helpful even though the issue of direct mail service was subject to unspecified “obstacles” because of the U.S. embargo on the island.

Cuba presented an analysis of its international mail services at the talks, according to the declaration published in the government-controlled Cubadebate web site, and “agreed to continue the conversations in the coming months.”

State Department officials maintained at the time that the mail talks were purely technical in nature and did not reflect any change in the U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The United States is the destination of one out of every four packages and letters mailed from Cuba, according to official Havana figures, while mail and packages sent from the United States account for 42 percent of the total received on the island.

The June talks were headed by Lea Emerson, director of international postal matters for the U.S. Postal Service, and José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, head of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington.

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