Four years ago, on December 17th, 2014, the world awoke to simultaneous announcements by the presidents of the United States and Cuba that our two countries would begin a process to normalize relations. We were fortunate enough to be in Havana, where church bells rang, U.S. and Cuban flags waved, and smiles, tears and cheers of joy filled the streets. Tremendous progress followed as our two governments began to talk to each other. The resumption of commercial flights, an explosion of Airbnbs, endless waves of Americans visiting Cuba, and great progress on issues like internet connectivity and relations between Cubans on and off the island made it feel as if there was no turning back. We were finally opening doors!
The bad guys wouldn’t give up without a fight, however. Those that aim to separate our two countries and have benefited economically, politically, and ideologically from building walls worked hard in 2018 to move backwards. It was to be expected. They’ve fought tirelessly to create fear and confusion regarding travel to Cuba and make it hard for Cubans to visit the U.S. They seek to separate and divide us.
As our friend Carlos Varela says, “some people build walls while others build doors.”
For those of us that believe in uniting the American and Cuban people, reconciliation between Cubans on and off the island, the freedom to travel and normalization of relations, 2018 was a year of pushing back against walls, holding doors open and fighting hard to build new ones. We’re inspired and empowered by our friends like Carlos Varela, Lizt Alfonso, Richard Blanco, Cimafunk and millions of Cubans and Americans that work vigorously to build doors, each in their own way, and we’ll keep up the good fight in 2019.
Carlos Varela, Cimafunk & Dayme Arocena Open Doors in Havana
On a recent cool winter evening in Havana, CET and Carlos Varela, referred to as the “Poet of Havana,” the “Bob Dylan of Cuba” and the “Voice of his Generation,” brought together an intimate group of visiting Americans and Cuban friends for a night of beautiful music and brainstorming on ways to open doors between the U.S. and Cuba. The location? None other than Havana House, a new gallery and artistic space located in El Morro. Varela performed many of his classic hits, such as “Guillermo Tell,” “Como Los Peces” and “Como Un Ángel,” where he invited musicians Dayme Arocena and Cimafunk, the next generation of Cuban stars, to join him on stage for a powerful display of Cuba’s musical talent.
An Interview with Lizt Alfonso
Lizt Alfonso has built an empire in Cuba. Her dance company, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, travels the world, intriguing audiences and building bridges, and her academy empowers thousands of students yearly, mostly girls and women. What began as a dream is now a sprawling complex in Old Havana filled with students, teachers, visitors, and anxious parents waiting outside. "Artists will always be the best ambassadors of our countries, of culture and of love and peace," she told us "because art does not need words to have power and because art builds bridges and opens doors." We sat down with her to talk about the path she took to get here, how she stays inspired, and what her mind is on next.
Cimafunk Causes Chaos at the Fabrica de Arte
Cimafunk, 2018’s hottest Cuban band, showed recently just how captivated the Cuban public is with the group’s funky sound. The Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), always a hot spot with long lines, saw a fury of Cimafunk followers filling the surrounding streets, jockeying for a chance to get in and see the young sensation. According to FAC, the venue, which has hosted international acts like Usher, Dave Mathews, and endless Cuban stars, has never seen a crowd like the one Cimafunk drew.
Cuba Hangouts with Richard Blanco & Vicki Huddleston
Last week, we hung out with Cuban American inaugural poet Richard Blanco to talk about his journey, his inspiration and his advice for young writers.
On January 4th, 2019 at 3:05pm, we’ll be joined by Vicki Huddleston, U.S. Charge D'Affairs to Cuba under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Ambassador Huddleston served as a diplomat in Cuba during Elian, the Varela Project and the Cuban Five conflict and wrote a fascinating account about it titled “Our Woman in Havana”. It will be streamed live via this link. She will be interviewed by the Center for Democracy in the America’s Emily Mendrala. Emily was formerly the Director of Legislative Affairs of the National Security Council and the Special Advisor to the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs at the State Department.
CET In the News
Americans venture back to Cuba as hurricane memories, U.S. tensions fade, Reuters
“You can feel it in the streets if you walk around Old Havana,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel (CET), which brings hundreds of groups to Cuba every year. “The cruise terminal is filled. I have never seen airfares so high. Obviously, demand is outstripping supply, so things are looking good.”
U.S. politicians should stop punishing the Cuban people to win Florida votes, the Press Enterprise
Yet President Trump foreclosed any interaction which might encourage Havana to loosen controls. Argued CET’s Laverty, “U.S. hostility leads to an under-siege mentality in Cuba, limiting space for debate and calls for change.”
It's Time for a Policy Change on Cuba, The National Interest
“A lot of private business feels crushed,” complained CET’s Collin Laverty. “So many people opened businesses for American tourists.”
New Year’s in Cuba with Yissy Garcia
For those of you lucky enough to be in Cuba for New Year’s Eve, CET will be saying goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019 with Cuba’s most talented drummer, Yissy Garcia, and her band. We’ll gather for a special New Year’s Eve happy hour at Paladar Atelier at 6 pm on Monday, December 31st. Reach out to RSVP (no cost) and join us for the party with Yissy and her energetic, funky and genre-blending style, which blends jazz, funk, rumba-driven cadences and rap.
The CET Team