HAVANA – The 76-year-old Cuban woman who received a letter sent by President Barack Obama on the inaugural flight of the reestablished direct mail service between the United States and Cuba, told EFE she feels that she “has made history” thanks to the head of state, whom she hopes to meet during his visit to the island.
In the large house in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado where she lives surrounded by works of art and family memorabilia, Ileana Yarza received Thursday from a messenger the yellow envelope sent by the White House stamped “USA-CUBA Direct.”
“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,” Obama said in the letter, adding that “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.”
The Havana native said she felt a “spontaneous affection” for Obama, who will travel to the Caribbean country next Sunday and will become the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in Cuba in almost 90 years.
Yarza said she has followed Obama since she saw videos of him at the home of some relatives in New Jersey while campaigning for his first presidential term, and recalled that the first letter she wrote was to “wish him luck and tell him that he is the president Americans needed to fix many internal matters.”
She pens her missives in English, a language the elderly lady speaks perfectly because she “studied at U.S. private schools when she was a little girl in Havana.”
“It’s hard to communicate with him but now I’ve found the shortcut,” the retired economist said, adding that though she has received several answers “out of politeness,” she never imagined the president himself would send her “such a beautiful and personal” letter.
“I never imagined that. I thought when Obama came to Cuba he’d have all those commitments as head of state and wouldn’t have much time to spend here, or maybe someone would come and bring me a protocolary note or some little something,” she said.
Yarza, who most of her life worked “body and soul to aid the revolution,” said she feels the U.S. president is “once more returning the spontaneous affection” she feels for him.
“What I least imagined was to make history,” Yarza said holding the letter, which she considers a legacy for her children and grandchildren, and sees it as a first step toward a possible visit to her home of the whole Obama family.
“I feel he’ll come to see me, I feel that he’ll have that coffee I promised him, and I feel I’ll be able to give a big hug to Michelle and the girls,” she smiled, while warning that if such a visit should occur, she would feel honored to become a kind of “spokeswoman for the Cuban people and welcome him.”
Yarza said she would repeat the thanks she felt when Obama acknowledged that the embargo on the island, “one of the dirtiest, ugliest pages in U.S. history,” would not work in the new era of rapprochement between the two countries, which restored diplomatic ties last July after they had been suspended for more than 50 years.