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“Behind all of the distance
Behind the separation
Behind all of the governments
All of the borders and religion
There is a photo of a family”
~Carlos Varela, “Family Photo”
This time last year, we gathered at the Hamilton as Dave Matthews and Carlos Varela, “the poet of Havana,” shared a stage to recount stories of togetherness and exchange across geographic and linguistic boundaries.
The occasion, CDA’s 10th anniversary celebration, served to capture the spirit of collaboration that engagement represents. As CDA Founder Sarah Stephens said at the time, “So much can be gained, so much can be learned when you bring people together and truly listen to what’s being said.”
In the face of what seems like a difficult time for our two peoples, in the light of new regulations and the administration’s decision last month to restrict visa services at both countries’ embassies, those words ring truer than ever. As she went on to say, “There will be, sometimes, overwhelming obstacles, detours … but we can get through it together.”
And indeed, the policy changes are obstacles, especially for the people and families divided across the Florida Straits. The stories, as shared this week by Congresswoman Kathy Castor, are heartbreaking: A son in Cuba who cannot secure a visa to see his mother, who is undergoing chemotherapy in the U.S. A father in the U.S. whose wife and young daughter had visa interviews scheduled for late October at the U.S. Embassy in Havana – interviews which the embassy has since cancelled. And, stories of disappointment: a Cuban skateboard team who had planned to participate in a Tampa competition last weekend. They were slated to be Cuba’s first skate team to compete in the U.S. – until their visa applications and appointments were cancelled without a refund.
As the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board wrote this week, “The embassy pullout reflects this administration’s inclination to disengage.” And yet, the U.S. and Cuban people have shown time and time again that they yearn for closer ties, and the present is no exception. In recent days, we’ve seen a number of promising signs that the human side of our relationship is as strong as ever.
Take Cuban clothing design shop Clandestina, profiled last week in Vogue Magazine. Clandestina have found their designs, slick reproductions of Cuban culture and lifestyle, to be in high demand among U.S. visitors, and have recently began selling products in the U.S. – one of the only Cuban companies to do so.
Airbnb recently agreed to partner with Cuban taxi company and vintage car repair shop NostalgiCar for one of its Cuba “experiences.” In July, NostalgiCar co-owner Julio Álvarez told DC policymakers, “It means a lot to us to be able to help keep the doors open between the U.S. and Cuba, to be able to help our businesses as well as our communities.” Airbnb, meanwhile, spoke out last week about engagement with Cuba, telling The Hill, “Travel helps to break down barriers between people and countries and contributes to a greater understanding of the world.”
As we noted in our “Cuba Travel 101” fact sheet published this week, there are still plenty of ways to visit Cuba and continue engaging. We encourage you to do so.
Because, as Dave Matthews reminded us last November, “There’s no reason on earth we shouldn’t find as many reasons as possible to embrace each other.”
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