Engage Cuba Officially Takes Off

Engage Cuba celebrated its official launch with a roaring start yesterday in Washington, D.C.

To kick off the day, Engage Cuba President James Williams appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box to preview our new television ad calling on Congress to lift the travel and trade bans with Cuba and let American businesses compete.

The launch party was hosted at The Partisan restaurant, dubbed The (Bi)Partisan for the evening, to underscore the growing support for this issue on both sides of the aisle. The energy was palpable with more than 200 guests turning out to mark this historic new era.

Senators Patrick Leahy, Jeff Flake, Amy Klobuchar, Angus King, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Mark Warner were there, as were Congresswomen Kathy Castor and Maxine Waters and Congressman Peter Welch. We also had broad representation from the Obama administration, including Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs who has played a key role in the talks to open embassies. In a sign of how far we’ve come, José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, Chief of Mission of the Cuban Interests Section, also joined the event in representation of his country.

We were fortunate to hear from Senators Leahy, Flake, and Klobuchar who all touched on the incredible progress that had been made in the six short months that have passed since President Obama’s action to normalize relations with Cuba on December 17th. What we heard from them and so many others is that there is a bipartisan path forward. After 54 years of a failed policy, it’s time for a change.

Below we’ve included a sampling of our far-reaching coverage as well as an op-ed penned by the Engage Cuba leadership. And, if you haven't yet had a chance to check out our ad, you can view it here.


The Hill Op-ed by Engage Cuba: On Cuba, a bipartisanship path emerges
In Washington it used to be that elected officials could vigorously spar in the halls of Congress, but then put partisanship aside to solve important problems or just meet together over a meal. It’s not easy to build consensus and goodwill on tough issues, but it’s what most Americans expect of their government. While there are plenty of big fights still to be had, bipartisan progress is clearly emerging on an unlikely issue: Cuba policy.

CNBC Squawk Box: Interview with James Williams, President of Engage Cuba

"We’re starting with a pretty simple premise. We’ve had a policy of isolation for 54 years that failed. I think under any measure, we know this policy needs to change. We know that it will; it’s inevitable. Our goal with this campaign is to get started led by the private sector to speed up history.”

New York Times: New Group Enjoys Thaw in U.S.-Cuba Relations With a Party
American and Cuban diplomats joined Tuesday night at the packed Washington bar, Partisan – invitations added the prefix “Bi” — to celebrate Engage Cuba, a newly formed group pushing for an end to the bans. Attendees partied like it was 1959 as wine and dark rum drinks – Cuba Libre and Havana Nueva cocktails – flowed.

Miami Herald: Major U.S. companies support new group that will lobby to lift sanctions against Cuba
Major U.S. companies like Cargill, Procter & Gamble and Caterpillar have thrown their support behind Engage Cuba, a bipartisan coalition that formally began operating out of the nation’s capital on Tuesday and will focus on lobbying Congress to lift restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba.
"This is an opportunity to position ourselves in this unique moment in history,” said James Williams, president. “We feel that the wind is in our favor and we are very excited.”

Politico Influence: Engage Cuba Launches TV Ad
Engage Cuba, an advocacy group pushing for repealing the ban on doing business in or traveling to Cuba, will begin airing a TV ad, titled "Guess What?," which will highlight that an estimated $5.9 billion in annual U.S. exports are blocked under the ban. The ad will run on Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC. Engage Cuba's membership includes organizations and businesses across sectors, with major trade groups like the National Foreign Trade Council, National Association of Manufacturers, the Consumer Electronics Association, Council of the Americas and the American Society of Travel Agents. The group has already hired Fierce Government Relations to lobby on its behalf.

Politico Pro: A New Cuba Travel Coalition Hatches
Engage Cuba is off to a running start, buying ads on Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC to promote the new group's efforts to loosen trade and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba. The ads cleverly highlight the fact that Americans are free to travel to North Korea but not to Cuba.

Latin American Herald: Bipartisan Coalition “Engage Cuba” Launches Activities in U.S.
“No, there’s no way (this will backslide). There are matters on which U.S. citizens are much farther along than the politicians and this is one of those,” said Williams regarding the many surveys showing that the U.S. people are in favor of the rapprochement.

Tampa Bay Times: TV ad to call for open relations with Cuba
A newly-formed bipartisan group is launching an ad today on national cable calling for open relations with Cuba. "It’s been over 50 years," a narrator says. "Isn’t it time for a change?" The ad will air on Fox News, CNBC and MSNBC and is paid for by the business-backed Engage Cuba. The advocacy group is run by top Democratic and Republican strategists and is supported by a number of lawmakers, including Florida Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who is attending a launch party in Washington this evening.

AP: An embassy opening date is "imminent"
"I think we're just realizing the degree to which they spent 40-plus years with this being as deep into their DNA as imaginable," said James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, a corporate-backed bipartisan group that launched pro-engagement lobbying efforts Tuesday. "We're not just going to turn the lights on and it's going to be fixed overnight."

El Mundo: Nace 'Engage Cuba', la gran coalición de Estados Unidos para el aperturismo a la isla
"A lo mejor hubo buenas intenciones entonces (cuando se decretó el embargo en octubre de 1960), pero 54 años es suficiente", aseguró en declaraciones a Efe James Williams, presidente de la agrupación, en alusión a la duración del embargo.
Williams explicó que las empresas, colectivos y personalidades de la política involucradas con 'Engage Cuba' son conscientes de que hay que continuar trabajando para lograr acabar con las grandes trabas hacia la isla y es tiempo "de aprovechar el impulso" del actual proceso de normalización bilateral entre ambos países.

El Nuevo Herald: Grandes compañías de EEUU apoyan eliminación de sanciones a Cuba
Importantes compañías estadounidenses como Cargill, Procter&Gamble y Caterpillar apoyan los esfuerzos de cabildeo en el Congreso para levantar las restricciones de viaje y comercio con Cuba que realiza la organización “Engage Cuba”, la cual quedará formalmente constituida el martes en Washington. “Esta es una oportunidad de posicionarnos en este momento único en la historia, sentimos que el viento sopla a favor nuestro y estamos muy entusiasmados”, dijo su director, James Williams.