REFILE-Cuba gets first maritime shipment from Miami in 50 years

Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:05pm IST

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HAVANA, July 13 (Reuters) - A small cargo ship sailed into Havana Bay on Friday with the first maritime shipment from Miami to Cuba in 50 years.

The Ana Cecilia carried just one container filled with food and other items, but it was the beginning of what shipper International Port Corp hopes will be a weekly service linking the United States and Cuba, longtime ideological foes.

There are other shipping services between the two countries, but none linking Miami, center of the Cuban exile community in the United States and opposition to Cuba's communist government, to Havana.

"“It's one of the best things that has happened. We have to start to do things like this now and we have to start to create bridges like this," said Leonardo Sanchez, spokesman for International Port Corp.

The company was granted a license by the U.S. government, which has imposed a trade embargo against Cuba since 1962.

U.S. President Barack Obama has eased the embargo in a few ways, such as allowing Cuban Americans to travel freely and send unlimited remittances to cub and making it easier for Americans in general to travel to Cuba.

The company is allowed to transport items that Washington considers humanitarian aid - among them food, medicine, appliances, furniture and clothes - from authorized groups and from family members. The ship has space for 16 containers and charges $5.99 per pound.

The Ana Cecilia was supposed to arrive in Havana on Thursday, but had to sail through the sometimes rough seas of Cuba's customs bureaucracy before it could come to port.

It could face more problems in September, when stiff new import taxes take effect that could discourage people from shipping items to Cuba.

A few Cubans watched the Ana Cecilia sail into Havana Bay, among them peanut vendor Victor Angel Diaz, 75.

“"This is good, it's a help for the family members," he said. “It doesn't have anything to do with anything, not politics or anything."

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