A Photo of a Family

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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.”

URGENT APPEAL – Preserve engagement with Cuba! Click HERE to support CDA’s advocacy work!

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Alaska Airlines to end Cuba service

Alaska Airlines will terminate its Cuba flights, a once-daily route to and from Los Angeles and Havana, effective January 22, the Seattle Times reports. American, Delta, FedEx, JetBlue, Southwest, and United applied in August for additional flights to the island.

According to John Kirby, Alaska’s vice president of capacity planning, the flights have recorded low booking rates, and last week’s publication of regulations limiting travel to the island “probably was the proverbial straw.”

As we reported last week, Minnesota airline carrier Sun Country abandoned its Cuba flight allocation from the Department of Transportation due to uncertainty around travel regulations. U.S. airlines Frontier, Silver, and Spirit have all terminated flights to Cuba this year due to low profits.

In Cuba

Moody’s downgrades Cuba credit outlook, citing U.S. policy changes

Credit-rating business Moody’s Investors Service has changed its Cuba rating outlook from “positive” to “stable,” the country’s first rating downgrade in over three-and-a-half years.

According to Moody’s, the change is primarily related to “the stalled process of rapprochement with the US,” which the agency states will likely result in a decreased number of U.S. visitors to the island and dampen foreign investment in the country. Moody’s also cites domestic economic issues, such as stagnation in sugar and nickel prices and the effects of hurricanes on agricultural production, as secondary factors for the rating outlook downgrade.

Moody’s had upgraded Cuba’s rating from “stable” to “positive” in December 2015, due to “the likelihood that US economic sanctions might be eased further,” as well as the country’s perceived decreasing economic reliance on Venezuela.

The agency also estimates Cuba’s GDP will contract this year by 0.5 percent before growing by 1.1 percent in 2018. An October report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which historically has made estimates similar to final numbers published by Cuba’s government, predicted that Cuba’s economy will contract by 0.5 percent in both 2017 and 2018.

Granma chief editor removed from post

Pelayo Terry Cuervo, editor-in-chief of Cuba’s main state newspaper Granma, has been relieved of his position due to “mistakes made in fulfilling his responsibilities,” according to brief post on the paper’s website.

Granma is the official paper of Cuba’s Communist Party. According to the post, the decision to remove Mr. Cuervo was made by “party leadership.”

What We’re Watching

Engagement or Estrangement: What next for US-Cuban relations?, Inter-American Dialogue

CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala is featured on a panel discussion at the Inter-American Dialogue on the future of U.S.-Cuba relations, alongside Jorge Domínguez, professor of Government at Harvard University, and Michael Bustamante, professor of History at Florida International University. Video of the event is available through C-SPAN.

What We’re Reading

Under Trump, new rules for Cuba, yet again, Emily Mendrala, The Hill

CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala writes in The Hill, “It’s the lives of the Cuban people that are most evidently altered by the ebbs and flows in Washington, and — at minimum — they deserve a U.S. policy that allows them to be the determinants of their own future.”

Trump’s New Cuba Sanctions Miss Their Mark, William LeoGrande, Americas Quarterly

William LeoGrande, professor of Government at American University, writes, “The real victims of the new sanctions will be U.S. residents whose right to travel is curtailed, Cuban families who depend on remittances to survive, the struggling Cuban private sector, and U.S. businesses.”

Inside Cuba’s National Ballet School, Rachel Brown and Santiago Barreiro, National Geographic

This photo essay from National Geographic takes readers inside Cuba’s famous National Ballet School. The school is scheduled to perform in Tampa in 2018, but is uncertain of the status of their trip given the freeze on visas at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

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