Sarah Stephens

Executive Director, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Sarah Stephens is the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA). Since moving to Washington in 2000, Sarah’s work has focused mainly on securing the kinds of decisive changes in U.S.-Cuba policy implemented by President Obama in 2015. She is now devoted to making those new policies work – for U.S. travelers and U.S. businesses, for civil society partners on both sides of the Florida Strait, and for the Cubans who stand to gain the most from a respectful relationship with the United States – and to normalize relations going forward. Since opening CDA’s doors in 2006, Sarah has worked with U.S. policymakers, journalists and others, to change the debate on U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba and the hemisphere more broadly. 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 helped plan and participated in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s highly-successful trade mission to Cuba in April 2015, and has led trips for seven Fortune 50 corporations and other firms interested in doing business with Cuba. At forums in the U.S. and in Latin America, in editorial columns, and other publications, Sarah has advocated for changes in our policy toward Cuba and Latin America. Under Ms. Stephens’ direction, CDA 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. She introduced a CDA panel on the status of women in Cuba in the era of economic reform at the Latin America Studies Association Congress in Chicago, and she gave the keynote address in Havana at a celebration hosted by Témas Magazine, a social science journal that collaborated with CDA on its “Gender in Transition” edition published in December 2014. Ms. Stephens has delivered remarks and provided analysis in panels and conferences across the country and in Cuba, before the World Affairs Council of Washington (DC) on the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations; the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh (PA) on normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations; at 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 (CIP) 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 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.” Her testimony can be viewed here. She also testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere regarding “The Crisis in Honduras.” A long-time human rights advocate, Sarah 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. Sarah 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. She left CIP in 2006 and launched the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA).