American, Cuban flags
American, Cuban flags Thinkstock

Veteran diplomat Jose Cabanas on Thursday became Cuba's first ambassador to the United States in 54 years, according to the Reuters news agency.

Cabanas, who ran Havana's de facto embassy or "Interests Section" in Washington since 2012 and became charge d'affaires when relations were formally restored on July 20, presented his credentials to U.S. President Barack Obama.

"The ceremony took place at the White House Oval Office, the venue of the presidential office, in the midst of a day when the U.S. leader received 16 new ambassadors," said a Cuban embassy statement quoted by Reuters.

"The Cuban ambassador's accreditation to the United States is a further step within the process to normalize relations between both countries," it added, saying Cabanas and Obama discussed the state of bilateral relations.

Last December, Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro agreed to restore ties snapped in 1961 during the Cold War.

Before the Cuban embassy in Washington opened in July, the United States had officially dropped Cuba from its blacklist as a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the country to have better access to American banking facilities and aid.

In addition, Washington authorized commercial ferry services to Cuba for the first time in more than a half-century. 

Washington has yet to name an ambassador to Cuba, but it did reopen the embassy in Havana last month, in a special ceremony attended by Secretary of State John Kerry.

The White House confirmed Cabanas' status on Thursday in a brief statement naming 16 newly-accredited envoys. In a long diplomatic career, Cabanas has also been Cuba's envoy to Austria and was a foreign affairs vice-minister, noted Reuters.