US envoy in Cuba met officials, citizens

HAVANA (Reuters) – A senior US diplomat who participated in recent talks in Havana about resuming bilateral mail service with Cuba stayed around to meet with Cuban officials and other Cubans in the latest sign of thawing US-Cuba relations.

A spokeswoman for the US Interests Section in the Cuban capital said on Tuesday that Bisa Williams, acting deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, was in Cuba for several days after the Sept. 17 meeting, holding the previously unannounced meetings.

The spokeswoman said Williams met Cuban officials and members of Cuba’s “civil society,” and went to the western province of Pinar del Rio to tour facilities there.

“The Cubans helped set things up for her,” the spokeswoman said.

She would not confirm reports that Williams also met Cuban dissidents.

US-Cuban relations have begun slowly warming under U.S. President Barack Obama, who has said he wants to “recast” relations that have been hostile since a 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power and led to Cuba’s transformation into a communist state.

He has lifted limits on Cuban Americans travelling and sending money to Cuba, and initiated talks with Havana on migration and mail service, the latter aimed at reinstating direct postal service between Cuba and the United States suspended since August 1963. The two governments issued positive statements after both meetings and said more would be held in the future.

The first round of migration talks was held in New York in July, and a second round is tentatively set for December in Havana. They had been suspended since 2004 by Obama’s predecessor, George W Bush.

The US also has suggested to Cuba that travel limits currently imposed on their respective diplomats in both countries be lifted.

In a small but symbolic gesture, Washington also turned off in July a news ticker in the window of the US Interests Section in Havana that the Cuban government had viewed as an affront to its sovereignty.

Since the ticker was turned off, Cuba has mostly taken down large flags it placed in front of the interest section to block the ticker from view.

Despite the thaw, Obama has said he will maintain the 47-year-old US trade embargo against Cuba until the Cuban government shows progress on human rights and democracy. Cuba has said it views those as strictly internal issues not subject to negotiation.

Two weeks ago, Obama signed a yearly renewal of the act that imposes the embargo, which Cuba blames for most of its economic problems.

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