Sunday, October 16, 2011

Roots of Hope Statement: Passing of Laura Pollan

Raíces de Esperanza/Roots of Hope mourns the loss of Laura Pollan, a mother, teacher and civil rights leader, who passed away on Friday, October 14th, 2011. Pollan was an example of perseverance and courage for all, often standing for her beliefs in the face of harsh opposition. Her white dress, weekly marches, and leadership of the Ladies in White has inspired the world over.

Pollan’s impact will not be forgotten. Her commitment to her formerly imprisoned husband and to a pluralistic and free Cuba was unswerving. She helped inspire the Hunger for Change marches throughout the world in March 2010, and she will continue to serve as a beacon of hope to all Cubans who desire a Cuban future that respects all human rights and civil liberties.

Raíces de Esperanza/Roots of Hope would like to extend its heartfelt condolences to Pollan’s family and friends. The world lost a hero this week.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Seeds of Change: Understanding & Supporting Micro-finance Efforts in Cuba

This post marks the tenth entry for the current Roots of Hope blog theme: Seeds of Change. To read some of the previous entries, see What comes next: study abroad and youth-led change in Cuba,

The video below takes a closer look at Micro-finance efforts in Cuba and how the public and private sectors, as well as individuals can begin to understand, support, and guide economic empowerment in Cuba. For related information about the Cuba Small Business Initiative, see here. Also, we urge you to check out the Cuba Study Group's Executive Director's post for Seeds of Change on the effect of economic change in Cuba and the windows of opportunity it creates for those of us across the Florida Straights.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Seeds of Change - Cuba's Economic Reforms: A Window of Opportunity

This post marks the ninth entry for the current Roots of Hope blog theme: Seeds of Change. To read some of the previous entries, see What comes next: study abroad and youth-led change in Cuba, How Cell Phones Can Shake a Nation, Begin from the Beginning: the need for open dialogue, and From New Orleans to Havana.

Cuba’s Economic Reforms: A Window of Opportunity

By Tomas Bilbao

Few times, if any, in Cuba’s modern history has there been such an opportunity to help fuel the seeds of change on the island. The process of economic reforms put in place by Raul Castro, though limited and often contradictory, provide a window of opportunity help thousands of Cuban entrepreneurs succeed in starting and operating their own, independent businesses.

For years, the focus of those interested in planting seeds of change in Cuba has been almost exclusively on providing humanitarian and democracy-promotion assistance in the way of U.S. government funded programs through NGOs. While this work is important and can be productive if properly managed, it is limited in both scope and effectiveness. The U.S. government monopoly on assistance to the island until recently has relegated the immense potential of family and people-to-people assistance to the sidelines.

Two important factors have changed the landscape today:

1) Cuba’s process of economic reforms: In an effort to attempt to rescue Cuba’s failing economy, the Cuban government has begun to implement unprecedented reforms which include the authorization of a limited number of self-employment categories.

2) Recent changes in U.S. policy: Regulatory changes by President Obama created new opportunities for civil society in the U.S. to assist civil society inside Cuba through travel, remittances and people-to-people exchanges.

Given the ability of Cubans to start their own businesses and new U.S. regulations that allow U.S. citizens to assist Cubans on the island directly, those interested in helping empower Cubans on the island to determine their own future can now do so directly. Here are some ways U.S. nationals can help plant seeds of change in Cuba:

• Visit family: Given the isolation of the Cuban people, their contact with the outside world has been limited. This means that the opportunity to visit family in Cuba provides them with a window to the outside world. By taking them information and resources, U.S. nationals can help their families in Cuba take advantage of the economic reforms.

• Send remittances to family in Cuba: U.S. nationals can now remit unlimited amounts of money to family residing in Cuba. This money can be used to help them meet basic needs or to start their own small businesses to reduce their dependence on remittances and government programs.

• Send remittances to civil society: New U.S. regulations allow U.S. nationals to remit up to $500 to non-family members per quarter, per recipient “to support the development of private businesses, among other purposes.” This empowers every American to become an agent of change and makes every Cuban a potential entrepreneur.

• Participate in people-to-people exchanges: Thanks to the new regulations, U.S. nationals who do not have family on the island can also help empower Cuban civil society through direct contact. Educational, athletic, cultural and religious organizations are now authorized to travel to Cuba under a general license if they meet certain conditions. These exchanges can serve to provide Cuban entrepreneurs with information and training to start of expand their independent businesses. It also allows academics; artists and athletes to better understand the needs of the Cuban people in order to take advantage of new U.S. regulations.

There is no question that Cuba’s economic reforms have been timid and are limited in scope, nor the fact that U.S. regulations continue to present important barriers to assisting civil society in Cuba, but the environment today presents the best opportunity in half a century to empower civil society. These important changes allow any U.S. nationals to become agents of change regardless of whether they have family on the island. Since these regulations were announced, over 300,000 Americans a year have visited family on the island and another 100,000 have engaged in people-to-people travel. In addition, approximately one billion dollars has been sent as family remittances with up to another billion has been taken in the forms of goods by travelers to Cuba.

The enormous potential created by these reforms and changes in U.S. policy represents the best window of opportunity help empower civil society in Cuba in decades. All Americans, not just those with family on the island, can become agents of change by taking advantage of this opportunity to help entrepreneurs on the island start and expand their independent businesses. Doing so will help them reduce the dependence on the Cuban government and remittances from abroad, empowering them to become authors of their own future. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. Now is the time to plant seeds of change in Cuba by supporting its budding entrepreneurs.

Tomas Bilbao is Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group and is an MBA candidate at the Kellogg School of Management. He was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela and is passionate about promoting and defending democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @TomasBilbao.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Summer Fellows Journal: Wrapping Up

This post marks the "beginning of the end" of a series of accounts by the 2011 Roots of Hope Summer Fellows, focusing on their experiences, thoughts, and musings over the course of the coming months!

By Claudia Diaz

I finished my time as a Raíces summer fellow a few weeks ago; now, thinking back and reflecting on everything that happened this summer, I can’t help but to feel incredibly grateful to have found Raíces and the opportunity to work with everyone in it. I joined this organization because I believed and identified very much with what it stood for, and because of my strong desire to do something, anything for Cuba. Over the summer, as I attained a deeper understanding of the inner workings of the organization these feelings grew stronger and stronger. I realized the amazing group of people that make up Raíces is as important as the work they do. I am grateful to have met not only outstanding leaders of the Miami community but also every single person that is on the team and that somehow contributes their time to this cause; a very diverse circle of talented young people who are all passionate about Cuba and who are doing something for it.

I think the work that Raíces does is truly invaluable. Without a doubt, helping connect Cuban youth to each other and the rest of the world has had and will continue to have tremendous influence on the future of Cuba. Knowledge and information have power beyond our thoughts; ideas give birth to more ideas, and to actions.

Contributing to this kind of work was incredible, but also gave rise to the constant questions of: -what more can we do?- is this enough?- and the final, harsh question - are we having any real influence-” I speak for myself, but I am sure this question at some point haunts anyone working towards any kind of positive change in society. However, this is part of what keeps everyone on their toes, thinking and innovating. Measuring the influence of the work we do in Raíces is hard because we often look at big pictures; we must look at the hundreds and thousands of smaller pictures. We must look at every household who now has a better way of keeping in touch, at every text and picture message sent from one young person to the other. At every video that is uploaded to the internet, opening a window to Cuba, letting everyone know. At every university student who will have a flash drive, and a way to share and attain information about the world, and Cuba itself. At every new person in a University campus who somehow learns of what goes on in Cuba and feels an urge, at least for a moment, to do something for it. And at every young Cuban outside of the island who is surprised that there are people interested in this cause and that work for it, and who are reminded or first informed that there is something that they can do for the country that is as much part of their culture and themselves as the one they live in.

There is a lot of work to do; infinite ways in which we can contribute to the growth and betterment of Cuba; but at the level of I, the individual, it all starts with a connection: to a friend, a family member, a fellow musician, student or baseball player, or a blogger. That is what Raices is all about, human connections, and at the end the bonds of love and friendship we form with people around us give way to channels of information and inspiration.

This has been an unforgettable and inspiring summer, and I hope I can continue to work towards our common dreams. I will never forget the colorful office that lent such a unique ambiance to the work we did, as well as the fun times with Chabeli, Ben, Raul, Miguel, Janelle, everyone on the team, and of course with Felice; this summer would not have been the same without his amazing leadership. Spending time with of all of you made my summer. Cheers.

Claudia Diaz will be starting her third year at the University of Chicago this fall, where she is a pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor in Human Rights. She came to the United States at the age of 11 and has lived in Miami ever since. To contact Claudia, email