Sarah Stephens

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Sarah Stephens

Sarah Stephens is Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas and its Freedom to Travel Campaign, which fights for the rights of all U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. She is also the founder and Director of the Cuba Platform. At CDA, for ten years, she designed and led programs to educate and change hearts and minds about U.S. relations with Cuba. She has engaged hundreds of policymakers, business leaders, women philanthropists, artists, and cultural icons in supporting an end to the embargo. Ms. Stephens has led more than 70 official fact-finding trips, trade and cultural missions, and people-to-people delegations to Cuba over the past 17 years, including those of The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities; Governors Andrew Cuomo (NY) and Terry McAuliffe (VA); seven U.S. corporations from the Fortune 100 List, and dozens of Members of the U.S. House and Senate from both parties.

At CDA, Ms. Stephens created the weekly Cuba Central News Brief and supervised the publication of a series of reports on 21st Century Cuba, including “Cuba’s New Resolve: Economic Reform and its Implications for United States Policy” and “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and Women’s Role in Building Cuba’s Future,” funded by the Ford Foundation and featured in The New York Times. Ms. Stephens has testified before Congress on U.S.- Cuba relations and the coup in Honduras, and continues to provide commentary and expertise to the media and in other public forums. Her current research and writing is focused on the intersection of neuroscience and empathetic societies.

Activist history

A long-time human rights advocate, Sarah Stephens began her work in the 1980s at El Rescate, a center for Central American refugees in Los Angeles, and then worked for the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee on human rights issues from 1990-91. She later founded and directed Artists for a Hate Free America, an entertainment industry-backed organization geared toward encouraging youth involvement in human rights and civil rights issues.

Stephens moved to Washington to work on Cuba policy at the Washington Office on Latin America, and, in December 2001, joined the staff at the Center for International Policy, where she founded the Freedom to Travel to Cuba campaign. In 2006, she left CIP and launched the Center for Democracy in the Americas.[1]


Stephens works with U.S. policymakers, journalists and others, to change the debate on U.S. foreign policy toward the hemisphere. She has led dozens of delegations of U.S. policymakers, academics, experts, and philanthropists to Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela on fact-finding and research missions. She has advocated for changes in our policy toward Cuba before Congress, at forums in the U.S. and in Latin America, in editorial columns, and other publications. Opinion pieces authored by Sarah have been published by The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Indianapolis Star, The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Times, The Huffington Post,, and Havana Note. Her work has been supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies, Arca Foundation, the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the General Service Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Stewart Mott Charitable Trust among others.

Under Ms. Stephens’ direction, CDA has published a series of studies on 21st century Cuba, including “Cuba’s New Resolve: Economic Reform and its implications for U.S. Policy“; a detailed report on Cuba’s plans to drill for energy in the Gulf of Mexico and how the embargo has left the United States vulnerable to the environmental impacts of a potential spill; and “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women in Building Cuba’s Future.”

Following the publication of the “Women’s Work” report, Ms. Stephens delivered the keynote address at CDA’s conference titled “Cubans in the New Economy: Their Reflections and the U.S. Response,” co-sponsored by National Foreign Trade Council and the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and participated in a panel hosted by Equality Forum in Philadelphia, which focused on LGBT equality in Cuba.

Regarded as an expert in U.S.-Latin American policy, Ms. Stephens delivered remarks and provided analysis in panels and conferences around the country, including the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs conference titled “The Obama Administration and Latin America: The First Year”; a panel entitled “Cuba and its reintegration in the Inter-American System” at the American Society of International Law; and at a conference by the Center for International Policy on “Questions of Racial Identity, Racism and anti-Racist Policies in Cuba Today,” where participants discussed the implications of race in the Cuban nation, Afro-Cuban initiatives striving for racial equality, and the effect on these issues on U.S.-Cuban relations.

Ms. Stephens has testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs regarding “National Security Implications of U.S. Policy toward Cuba.” She also testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere regarding “The Crisis in Honduras.”[2]

"Cuba and the United States: Historical Perspectives, Political Prospects"

September 26, 2008, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute for the Study of the Americas, convened a panel titled “Cuba and the United States: Historical Perspectives, Political Prospects.”.

Panelists including former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, former American Interests Section Director in Havana and Center for International Policy Senior Fellow Wayne Smith, National Security Archive Latin America project director Peter Kornbluh, Lissa Weinman of the World Policy Institute, Kirby Jones of the US-Cuba Trade Association, Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute, Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, William LeoGrande at American University, Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, Al Fox of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, and others.[3]

"Havana Note"

John McAuliff is Executive Director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development and a contributor, in 2009, to the website Havana Note, with Steve Clemons, Larry Wilkerson, Patrick Doherty, Anya Landau French, Jake Colvin, Sarah Stephens, Phil Peters, Timothy Punke, and Gail Reed. [4]

March 2011 Cuba trip

Front row John Yarmuth, Steve Cohen, Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Donna Edwards, Sarah Stephens

Democratic Reps. John Yarmuth and Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Donna Edwards of Maryland spent four days in Cuba. They met in Havana and other cities with government leaders, U.S. officials, scholars, economists, foreign diplomats, physicians,artists, farmers and journalists.

The trip was sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, and the delegates were accompanied by Sarah Stephens from the Center.[5]

Meeting Marc Frank

Marc Frank, center, blue shirt, on left

0n March 23rd, Steve Cohen, John Yarmuth, Donna Edwards, and Sarah Stephens of Center for Democracy in the Americas, met with Reuters, and Financial Times journalist Marc Frank - former writer for the Communist Party USA's People's Daily World, and a propagandist for the Castro regime.

June 2011 Cuba trip

Donna Brazile, Karen Bass, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Jane Harman

Rep. Karen Bass traveled to Havana, Cuba on June 5, 2011, accompanied by Donna Brazile, former Congresswoman Jane Harman, and Sara Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. The trip was paid for ($2915 for Bass) by the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

The delegates participating in the Cuba fact-finding trip, attended meetings with Cuban academics, policymakers, journalists and NGO representatives, and toured various sites.[6]

Cuba trip, June 2014

Delegation at Foundation of Nature and Man, June 21, 2014, Sara Stehens, third from left
Barbara Lee, Rosa DeLauro, Anna Eshoo, Betty McCollum, CDA's Sarah Stephens, meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, June 21, 2014

In June 2014 a delegation organized by the Center for Democracy in the Americas traveled to Havana Cuba. It consisted of Sarah Stephens of CDA, US Congresswomen Barbara Lee, Anna Eshoo, Rosa DeLauro, Betty McCollum, and Laura Richardson, Bettina Duval, Alicia Daly, Heather McGhee and other, The delegates had several meetings in Havana, including on June 21, when the Congressmembers and Sarah Stephens met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

The delegates also visited the Foundation of Nature and Man.[7]

Castor connection

Castor, Annie Betancourt and Sarah Stephens, July 11, 2013