Havana (AP) – A 76-year-old Cuban woman who invited President Barack Obama to her Havana home received a response from the U.S. leader Thursday in one of the first letters to travel directly to Cuba in decades.
Ileana Yarza wrote to Obama on Feb. 18, saying "there are not many Cubans so eager as I to meet you in person" and asked him to have a strong cup of Cuban coffee with her sometime. Obama wrote back that "hopefully, I will have time to enjoy a cup of Cuban coffee" when he visits Havana Sunday.
His letter flew to Cuba Wednesday on the first direct mail flight since shortly after the 1959 Cuban revolution and arrived Thursday afternoon.
"I'm pleasantly surprised," Yarza told The Associated Press. The White House published the letter Thursday but Yarza said she was waiting to open it until relatives arrived to watch.
She said she began writing to Obama during his first presidential campaign and had written him four or five times since then, all demanding the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.
Yarza, a retired economist, speaks and writes fluent English thanks to a private school education in American-run schools before Cuba's 1959 socialist revolution.
She said she was "charmed" by Obama's "gentlemanliness" and while she didn't know if she would see the president during his time in Cuba, she said: "If I had the opportunity to see him I would say 'I admire you, I respect you, and I think you've done something very important," by moving toward normalizing relations with Cuba.
"I'd love to show him and his wife my house," she said.
U.S. officials have said in recent days that direct mail ended shortly after the Cuban revolution. Cuban state press say it was cut after a letter bomb was sent from New York to Cuba in 1968. William LeoGrande, an American University expert on U.S.-Cuba relations, said he believed the Cuban version was correct.