Cuban Embassy Opens in DC After 54 Years: Will Cuba Remain the ‘Green Jewel’ of the Caribbean?


The Cuban flag flying in Washington, DC for the first time in 54 years, signaling the reopening of the Cuban Embassy and normalization of relations with the U.S. (Photo: David E. Guggenheim)

With each tug of the rope by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the Cuban flag inched upward, finding a slight breeze and proudly showed off its brilliant colors of red, white and blue to the 500 or so onlookers. The Cubans and Cuban-Americans—never known for their silence at public events—beamed with national pride and shouted with joy as the flag inched up, “Fidel, Fidel!” Countless eyes filled with tears. Many embraced. The world was changing before us. The Cuban flag flew in Washington, DC for the first time in 54 years, signaling the reopening of the Cuban Embassy and normalization of relations with the U.S.

Inside at the embassy at the reception that followed, we hoisted mojitos and exchanged congratulations. But a number of us have long anticipated this moment with both joy and worry, realizing that the U.S. could become a greater threat to Cuba as its friend than it ever was as its enemy.

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The Promise and Potential for Collaborative Marine Conservation with Cuba

Special Lunch Session

Following the dramatic December 2014 announcement by President Obama, the U.S. and Cuba are working toward normalized diplomatic relations for the first time in a half century. Prior to the announcement, among the few points of U.S. engagement with Cuba had been in marine research and conservation. With the announcement, the opportunities to expand collaborative marine research, conservation and education are profound and immediate. And the imperative could not be greater. While significant marine resource degradation has been documented throughout the wider Caribbean region, in contrast, Cuba offers an underwater oasis of healthy coral reef ecosystems. Collaborative U.S.-Cuban efforts can ensure protection of healthy reefs, and further may provide important insight on protecting and restoring coral reefs throughout the Caribbean. At the same time, normalized relations will open new channels of commerce and tourism and put new pressures on marine resources. This panel will explore the prospect of normalized diplomatic relations for continued and expanded collaboration and examine new opportunities and threats as we approach a post-embargo world.

Cornelia Dean | Science Writer, New York Times and Writer-In-Residence, Brown University

The Honorable Sheldon Whitehouse | U.S. Senate, Rhode Island and Co-Chair, U.S. Senate Oceans Caucus

Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez | Chief of Mission of the Cuban Interests Section, Embassy of Switzerland

Ambassador David A. Balton | Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Robert Muse, J.D. | Attorney, Law Offices of Robert Muse       

David E. Guggenheim, Ph.D. | President, Ocean Doctor

Lunch provided for all premier registrants, and limited quantities available for purchase on-site.

This panel will be live-streamed at:

Celebrating Cuba’s Scientists and Students Dedicated to the Ocean

Ocean Doctor's Ximena Escovar-Fadul (right) presents CIM Director, Patricia Gonzalez with a framed photo of CIM's research vessel, Felipe Poey to commemorate CIM's 45th anniversary

Ocean Doctor’s Ximena Escovar-Fadul (right) presents CIM Director, Patricia Gonzalez (left) with a framed photo of CIM’s research vessel, Felipe Poey to commemorate CIM’s 45th anniversary

For a Cuban who wants to become a marine biologist, there is only one choice: The University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) is the only Cuban institution where marine biologists are accredited. Ocean Doctor’s collaboration with CIM began nearly 15 years ago and continues with bold new projects today. Ocean Doctor’s Project Scientist, Ximena Escovar-Fadul, participated in CIM’s 45th anniversary celebration held in Havana on March 9, 2015. Read more

Listen: Ocean Doctor on Science Friday: Conserving Cuba’s Coral Reefs

Ira Flatow, host of PRI's "Science Friday" and Ocean Doctor president, Dr. David E. Guggenheim, at the CUNY studios in New York

Ira Flatow (left), host of PRI’s “Science Friday” and Ocean Doctor president, Dr. David E. Guggenheim (right), at the CUNY studios in New York (Photo: Courtesy of PRI’s Science Friday)

Ocean Doctor president, David E. Guggenheim joined Science Friday host, Ira Flatow, to discuss Cuba’s coral reefs, their future, and how they may serve as a “living laboratory” to help us restore coral reefs in the Caribbean, where half of the coral reefs have been lost since 1970 according to a 2014 study.

Listen to the recording and visit Science Friday for more information.

Common Questions About the New Cuba Regulations

Today new regulations went into effect governing the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba. We’re still poring over the regulations, which are extensive, and we’ll have more for you in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, here are the answers to four common questions:

I’m planning to travel with Ocean Doctor. Is our trip still on?
Yes! Keep packing!

Do the new regulations legalize all U.S. travel to Cuba?
No. Travel is still restricted to 12 categories and must conform with U.S. government restrictions. Touristic travel to Cuba remains illegal. Our groups will continue to travel under the category of people-to-people educational travel which maintains the same requirements, including that “each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

So the embargo is still in effect?
Yes. It will require an act of Congress to lift the long-standing economic embargo. Until then it won’t be possible to legally travel as a tourist to Cuba.

Do the new regulations affect what we can bring home from Cuba?
Yes. You can now bring back up to $100 worth of Cuban alcohol and/or tobacco. Yes, that means you can bring back Cuban cigars. Unfortunately, they’re quite expensive, so $100 won’t let you bring back very many.

Can we now use our credit cards in Cuba?
This will eventually be the case, but it will take some time for banking relationships and new procedures to evolve. In addition, credit cards of any kind are not accepted at many business establishments in Cuba. Therefore, we still recommend that U.S. travelers bring cash.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Witnessing History in Havana: 12/17/2014

Video: Havana - Announcements December 17, 2014

My 2-minute video account of the dramatic events of December 17, 2014 while I was in Havana, Cuba. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO VIEW VIDEO or click here

The Cuban taxi driver informed  me that the world was about to change. Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama were going to deliver a major announcement at noon. He shook my hand in congratulations.

I stood stunned as the taxi pulled away. We had heard these rumors before, and with little Internet access, the rumor mill in Havana is especially rich. But this time, things seemed different.

At 11:25am we heard an announcement that Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for 5 years, was safely back in the United States. Something very big was happening.

The day before I had given a talk about U.S.-Cuba collaboration in marine science and conservation at Cuba’s Higher Institute for International Relations during a conference focused on the state of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. It has been gratifying to see that our work over the past 15 years with Cuban and American colleagues, focused on understanding and protecting the marine waters that we share, is considered among the most successful examples of Cuba-U.S. collaboration.

That morning our conference took an unexpected but welcomed turn as we watched the televised speeches together with the Institute’s students and learned that for the first time in more than half a century, Cuba and the U.S. would normalize relations.

Restoring diplomatic relations and removing Cuba from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list will open a new chapter in our collaborative work with Cuba, allowing us to accomplish much more. As you can imagine, our already challenging work to save coral reefs is further complicated by layers of regulations and restrictions.

Later, several other Americans and I joined the Cuban students in the streets of Havana, blocking traffic and celebrating the good news. (Watch my 2-minute video account of these events.)

Although the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba remains in place for now (an act of Congress is required to lift it), there is growing concern about the environmental impact that millions of American tourists might have on Cuba’s healthy ecosystems. To this end we are working to help Cuba “future-proof” its strong environmental legacy against future economic pressures.

Happy New Year 2015 Ocean DoctorThree months ago we held Cuba’s first international environmental economics workshop to kick-off a multi-year effort to help Cuba develop the tools and information necessary to assess the economic value of their natural, healthy ecosystems. When inevitably faced with proposals to build hotels and golf courses, Cuban decisionmakers will find that their nation’s ecosystems have a value in the ledger.

This news comes at a time of great urgency for saving our coral reefs. A report issued earlier this year shows a 50 percent decline in coral cover in the Caribbean since 1970. But the remarkable health of Cuba’s coral reefs offers hope and we are working to study this “living laboratory” to unlock the mysteries of what is keeping Cuba’s coral reef ecosystems so healthy and resilient, and gain insights to guide restoration efforts in the Caribbean and beyond.

Now more than ever, your support will make an enormous difference. Please help us build a future with our neighbors in Cuba that recognizes the importance of strong collaboration to protect the treasured ecosystems that we share by making a donation today.

Meanwhile, please accept my warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year! 



David E. Guggenheim, Ph.D.
Founder & President, Ocean Doctor

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Your tax-deductible donation will help support our work in Cuba. Thank you for your generosity.


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