The U.S. is resuming direct mail flights to Cuba from the U.S. for the first time in more than 50 years -- with a letter from President Barack Obama to a Cuban woman who invited the American president to her house for a cup of Cuban coffee making the inaugural flight.
The White House announced the resumption of mail flights on Thursday as Obama prepares to become the first U.S. president in nearly 90 years to visit the island.
The first flight includes a response from Obama to Ileana Yarza, 76, who wrote to him in February, saying she “could not be happier” to hear about his visit to Cuba. She praised his decision to restore relations with Cuba, calling the embargo against Cuba “cruel” and a “black page on American history and geopolitics.” She told Obama she toasted his election, celebrated his re-election to a second term, and wishes “there would be a third, perhaps one day...
And she added an invite: “To a cup of Cuban coffee at my place in Vedado,” she wrote. “Please, please, do visit me. Give this 76 year old Cuban lady the gift of meeting you personally. I think there are not many Cubans so eager as I to meet you in person not as an important American personality but as a charming president whose open smile wins hearts.”
Obama, who arrives Sunday in Havana along with first lady Michelle Obama, his daughters and mother-in-law, said he hoped he’d have the opportunity to take her up on the offer.
“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,” he wrote. “I am looking forward to visiting Havana to foster this relationship and highlight our shared values -- and, hopefully, I will have time to enjoy a cup of Cuban coffee.”
Direct mail service was suspended in 1963 — the same year the Kennedy administration tightened the embargo against the country and made most travel to Cuba illegal for U.S. citizens. There was U.S. mail service to Cuba but it traveled through third countries and was considered slow and not reliable.