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    US, Cuba to resume mail service, agreement on commercial flights

    US, Cuba to resume mail service, agreement on commercial flights
    The US and Cuba should be able to transform their new diplomatic
    relationship into a deeper commercial partnership before the end of the
    year, with direct postal service to begin.
    By Bradley Klapper, Associated Press SEPTEMBER 17, 2015

    WASHINGTON — The United States and Cuba should be able to transform
    their new diplomatic relationship into a deeper commercial partnership
    before the end of the year, with direct postal service to begin and an
    agreement on regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two
    countries, an American official said.

    Washington also plans to publish new regulations soon making it easier
    for U.S. citizens to visit the island and do business with its growing
    ranks of independent entrepreneurs.

    The official, who is familiar with the diplomacy, described significant
    progress in U.S.-Cuban discussions since the former Cold War foes
    reopened embassies in their respective countries in July. At a meeting
    in Havana last week, delegations from each side established a plan to
    settle a half-century of economic and legal disputes within the next 15
    months.

    Recommended: How much do you know about Cuba? Take our quiz!
    While difficult questions related to human rights and compensation
    claims won’t be resolved immediately, the official said first steps
    toward a broader normalization of ties would come quickly.

    First, the Obama administration intends to move on its own in the coming
    days by releasing a new set of rules designed to loosen the U.S.
    economic embargo on Cuba, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to
    publicly lay out the process and demanded anonymity.

    The goal is to pick up where President Obama left off in January, when
    he eased economic restrictions on Cuba in potentially the most dramatic
    manner since relations between the countries broke down after Fidel
    Castro’s revolution in 1959 and the subsequent Bay of Pigs invasion and
    Cuban missile crisis. The action sought to cut red tape for U.S. travel
    to Cuba, permit American companies to export telephones, computers and
    Internet technology, and allow U.S. firms to send supplies to private
    Cuban enterprises.

    But efforts to expand business, tourism and other exchanges have run
    into an overlapping thicket of U.S. laws and hindrances, not to mention
    an uneven response from Cuba’s political leaders, the U.S. official said.

    Many U.S. travelers still need to go on supervised group trips. Routine
    airline service hasn’t satisfied various federal conditions. Cruise
    ships and ferries are still trying to finalize regular maritime routes
    with Cuban authorities. Credit card and other companies still can’t
    transfer payments to Cuba. Telecommunications companies haven’t been
    able to set up shop and get equipment to the island 90 miles south of
    Florida. And Cuba’s government isn’t even running its Internet
    connections anywhere near capacity levels.

    The new U.S. rules should help cut through some of these bureaucratic
    hurdles, the official said, though he declined to describe all the legal
    changes in concrete terms. Only Congress can end the embargo, and much
    of the foreseen expansion of U.S.-Cuban economic ties rests on the
    cooperation of the island’s communist government.

    The U.S.-Cuban political track moved ahead Thursday as new ambassador
    Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez presented his credentials to Obama at a
    White House ceremony. The pair briefly spoke, according to a Cuban
    embassy statement.

    When Obama laid out his vision of improved relations eight months ago,
    he said his objectives were twofold: ease economic hardship in Cuba and
    spur its development of a private market outside of state control.

    Some breakthroughs can be expected by the end of the year, according to
    the official.

    Washington and Havana are slated to begin a “pilot program” allowing
    Cubans and Americans to send mail directly to one another, the official
    said. The governments have been speaking about re-establishing a postal
    link since Obama entered office, but the talks stalled when Cuba
    imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross. Direct mail service was halted in
    1963, though letters and packages travel back and forth through
    countries like Canada and Mexico.

    The postal program will use the Miami and Havana airports, the official
    said.

    Also, the U.S. and Cuba should finalize an agreement on resuming direct,
    commercial airline routes, though the first flights wouldn’t come until
    next year. Right now, American and Cuban travelers must fly on charter
    flights that are complicated to book, rarely involving an online portal
    and often forcing a prospective traveler to email documents and payment
    information back and forth with an agent. Those flying sometimes must
    arrive at the airport four hours in advance; strict baggage limits apply.

    The official outlined a few other achievable goals before the end year:
    Counternarcotic cooperation that goes beyond Coast Guard interdiction
    efforts to include Drug Enforcement Agency partnering with its Cuban
    counterpart; joint environmental work involving the National Oceanic and
    Atmospheric Administration; progress on setting up maritime passenger
    routes.

    U.S. and Cuban officials hope to tackle their biggest differences by
    December 2016, before Obama leaves office, the official said.

    The U.S. says Cuba must make significant democratic reforms, allowing
    greater space for opposition political voices and civil society
    movements. The fate of U.S. and Cuban fugitives beyond the reach of law
    enforcement authorities at home remains an outstanding issue. And each
    side has billions of dollars in compensation claims against the other,
    perhaps the biggest hindrance to the resumption of any “normal,”
    U.S.-Cuban relationship.

    Source: US, Cuba to resume mail service, agreement on commercial flights
    – CSMonitor.com –
    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2015/0917/US-Cuba-to-resume-mail-service-agreement-on-commercial-flights