HAVANA — Even before President Obama arrives in Havana on Sunday, he's trying to make Cubans laugh.
On Friday, Obama recorded a skit with the Havana-based comedian known as Panfilo, whose Monday night show is widely watched in Cuba. In the video, Panfilo regularly tries to call the White House — but to no avail. He then inadvertently reaches the Oval Office when he is trying to get the weather forecast for Tuesday’s exhibition game between Cuba’s national team and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The White House released the video on Saturday night, and while it will air on state television on Monday many Cubans have already seen it on Venezuelan TV, which is broadcast here.
In the routine, a dumbfounded Panfilo cannot believe that he has reached Obama. “The White House, the real White House?” he says in Spanish. “Oh my God! I am talking with Obama!”
The two exchange pleasantries (“I am so glad you will come to visit so you will get to know Cuba, its people,” the comedian remarks, while Obama tells him, “Well, I’m looking forward to it. The American people and the Cuban people are friends”) and discuss logistics.
Panfilo is under the impression that the leader of the free world needs both a ride from the airport and a place to stay, and he offers to help. Obama suggests that he wouldn’t mind riding in a vintage car and proposes “an almendron."
And while Panfilo frets that he does not have sufficient time to plan a party for the president (Obama tactfully declines to mention the state dinner in the works), he does provide a detailed rundown of what it would mean for Obamas to sleep in his aging double bed.
“But Michelle would have to sleep on the side next to the chest of drawers, so she can sleep well,” Panfilo says. “The other side of the bed has a spring that sticks out and bothers me when I sleep. But you will have a good time.”
Obama departed for Havana on Sunday afternoon, and 39 members of Congress also are coming here as part of the presidential delegation. Most members of the group, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), are Democrats, but five Republicans also joined in — Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) and Reps. Tom Emmer (Minn.), Reid Ribble (Wis.) and Mark Sanford (S.C.).
A number of American CEOs are traveling independently to Cuba in conjunction with Obama's visit. That group includes PayPal chief executive Daniel Schulman, Marriott's Arne Sorenson, Xerox's Ursula Burns and Washington chef and restaurant executive José Andrés.