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Normalized Relations Thrill Cuba-Bound Americans At Yonkers' Havana Central

Emelinda Blanco said, "I'm ready to go to Cuba,'' while celebrating with co-workers Thursday. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
The exterior of Havana Central at Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
Diners enjoyed Cuban coffee and coquito drinks at Havana Central. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

YONKERS, N.Y. -- President Obama's plan to "normalize" relations with Cuba, thawing an embargo that dates back to 1962, was welcome news Thursday at Havana Central.

Diners at the popular Cuban eatery in the Ridge Hill Shopping Center in Yonkers were mostly supportive of negotiations between Obama and Raul Castro, Cuba's president, to ease diplomatic, economic and travel restrictions between the two countries. The agreement includes a swap of prisoners and the opening of embassies in each other's countries.

"All I know is I'm ready to go to Cuba,'' said Emelinda Blanco of Yonkers, who speaks four languages."I just want to visit without going (via) Canada. I want to go so badly."

Direct travel to Cuba has been banned for Americans, who have had to resort to booking costlier, longer flights via the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Spain and other foreign countries.

Blanco said a holiday office party of clinical trial researchers ended up doubling as a celebration of the news of secret talks between Obama and Castro that may spell improved relations.

Havana Central patrons were enjoying Cuban coffee and a Christmas drink called coquito -- coconut, eggnog and rum. Cuban artwork, salsa music and ceiling fans offered the illusion of being on the Caribbean Island 90 miles south of Florida.

Cuban black bean soup was a popular order on Thursday as were empanadas, wraps filled with chicken, steak, shrimp, three cheeses or spinach and cheese.

Emilio Valdes, a waiter at Havana Central, said improved U.S. relations with Cuba won't affect his ability to return to his homeland.

"I always was able to visit with family,'' Valdes said, although it cost him $500 for a passport alone the last time he traveled to Cuba in 2011.

Travel bans on Cubans coming to the United States apparently will not be lifted, Valdes said.

Havana Central managers were encouraging customers to share what they think about the lift on the trade embargo via Facebook and Twitter.

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