The United States and Cuba have re-established a direct telephone link, the Cuban state telecommunications company said today, in the latest step toward normalizing ties between the one-time Cold War foes.
For the first time since 1999, calls can now be made directly from the United States to Cuba and vice versa, without passing through a third country, the company, Etecsa, said in a statement.
"The reestablishment of direct communications between the United States and Cuba contributes to providing better infrastructure and better communications quality between the people of both nations," Etecsa said. The connection was set up through a February deal signed with New Jersey-based firm IDT Domestic Telecom.
It was the first agreement signed between Cuban and American companies since the announcement on December 17 that the two countries would renew diplomatic ties after more than 50 years of hostility. The telephone link between the two countries has been interrupted and restored numerous times since Fidel Castro came to power in the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and began nationalizing American-owned companies in the 1960s.
But this is the first time the connection has been restored since February 25, 1999, according to Cuban authorities. Previously phone calls between the United States and Cuba had to pass through a third country, making them expensive and poor in quality.
Etecsa did not immediately announce new rates. Around two million Cuban-Americans live in the United States, and many families rely on phone calls to stay in touch across the Florida Straits. Postal service between the two countries was cut off in the 1960s and has still not been restored.
The new connection will "initially" be used only for international voice calls, but could eventually transmit other kids of communications as well, Etecsa said. The White House had announced in December that the rapprochement with Havana would include "new efforts to increase Cubans' access to communications and their ability to communicate freely."
That included easing restrictions on exports of telecommunications and Internet equipment, services and infrastructure.