If you’re flying on Virgin Australia or Korean Air this month, find me in your seat-back pocket…

My feature on Mérida, Mexico, is in this month's issue of Voyeur, the in-flight magazine of Virgin Australia.
My feature on Mérida, Mexico, is in this month’s issue of Voyeur, the in-flight magazine of Virgin Australia.

and

My piece, "Beyond Havana" is in the March issue of Korean Air's magazine, Morning Calm.
My piece, “Beyond Havana”, is in the March issue of Korean Air’s magazine, Morning Calm.

Book Tour: Pope Francis in His Own Words

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Yes, yes, I know: Pope Francis in His Own Words was published two years ago.

So why am I starting a book tour of sorts right now?

Well, as you’re probably aware, Pope Francis will be visiting Cuba and the United States next month, and it seems like a prime time to reintroduce the book to English- and Spanish-speaking audiences (did you know the book has been translated into about 15 languages?). Plus, I received a few lovely invitations to do so, and I couldn’t turn them down.

If you’re in one of the cities below, I hope you’ll spread the word and join me at one (or more!) of these events:

Decatur Book Festival: Decatur, Georgia, USA
I’m grateful to my alma mater, Emory University, for inviting me to participate in this beloved book festival. I’ll be signing books in the Emory tent from 3-4 pm on Saturday, September 5. I’ll have a very limited number of foreign language editions of the book as well.

Brooklyn Book Festival, Bookend Event Series: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Before I head out of the country to cover Pope Francis’s visit in Cuba, I’ll be talking about the book and signing copies as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival. My generous host is the delightful Hullabaloo Books, and I couldn’t think of a better bookstore to have a conversation about Pope Francis. This is an Official Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event. I’ll have a very limited number of foreign language editions of the book as well.

This event will take place at 8 pm on Tuesday, September 15.

Cuba Libro Bookstore: Havana, Cuba
I’m so excited that I’ll have the chance to talk about the book the day before Pope Francis will be giving his mass at Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

This event will take place at 5 pm on Saturday, September 19.

NEW: Our US publisher, New World Library, is offering a 50% discount off online orders of Pope Francis in His Own Words throughout September. Buy the book through their site using the discount code “pope” (no quotes, not case-sensitive) and you’ll get the book at half-price. Buy the book here.

Would you like to add Pope Francis in His Own Words to your bookshelf or inventory? Need a speaker or expert to interview about the Pope? Get in touch by emailing me: writingjulie[at]gmail[dot]com!

Author Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés in New York City

Rodríguez's newest book.
Rodríguez’s newest book.
I recommended not one, but two of Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés’s books in my round-up of essential reading about/related to Cuba for The Guardian, so I’m especially excited that I’ll get to meet her in person when she’s here in NYC this month.

The events below are open to the public. I hope you’ll support Cecilia, whose newest book, Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You, was released by Ig Publishing just this year.

Monday, June 15, 7 PM
Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center
172 Allen St, New York, New York 10002
Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You: A Reading and Signing

Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés will be presenting a reading of fiction from her newly released short story collection Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You followed by Q & A and signing. Her work reflects on the lives of Latina/os in the U.S.—especially those who settled in “el norte.” The characters populating her stories cope with challenges such as immigration, assimilation, poverty, race and gender issues; their voices call out to us to listen—oye!

Tuesday, June 16, 7:30 PM
Greenlight Bookstore
686 Fulton St, Brooklyn, New York 11217
An Evening with Ig Publishing: Sailing, Skating, and Cuba

Featuring Cecilia Rodriguez Milanes, author of Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You
Tracy O’Neill, author of The Hopeful
Diana Wagman, author of Life #6
Reception to follow

Fort Greene’s own independent press Ig Publishing publishes “original literary fiction from writers who have been overlooked by the mainstream publishing establishment, and political and cultural nonfiction with a progressive bent.” At this event, Greenlight and Ig celebrate the release of three exciting new literary works with a joint reading and reception.

Workshop Announcement: How to Report on Cuba

What started as Facebook venting about my frustration with the majority of reporting on/about Cuba has turned into what’s going to be a powerhouse workshop offered live in NYC on April 27 with my friend and colleague, Conner Gorry, who has lived in Cuba for more than a decade.

More details coming soon (we’ll post them all here), but for now, mark your calendars and spread the word. Space is going to be limited!Save the Date

What Obama’s Cuba Announcement Means

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
Earlier today, President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro held press conferences announcing that they have been involved in secret negotiations for over a year with the end goal of beginning to normalize relations between the two countries, which have been embroiled in a Cold War-like diplomatic deadlock since Fidel Castro took power more than half a century ago.

The changes President Obama outlined (see the full video here) are sweeping, and they are historic. But as the initial euphoria wears off, people are starting to ask what, exactly, the changes mean.

A Pastors for Peace Bus in Havana, Cuba in 2010. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)
A Pastors for Peace Bus in Havana, Cuba in 2010. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Here’s a quick summary:

1. The embargo is still in effect.
President Obama cannot unilaterally strike down the embargo. Though aspects of the embargo are being described as being “eased,” the embargo remains in effect for the foreseeable future. If you don’t know what the embargo entails, it’s worth reading the highlights here.

2. That means that you can’t just book a trip to Cuba tomorrow.
Unless you fall into one of the 12 categories of US travelers who are authorized to visit Cuba, you still can’t travel unimpeded to Cuba– at least not legally.

3. But if you DO fall in that category, it seems like travel IN Cuba is about to become much easier.
For those of us who can travel to Cuba, spending money to get to Cuba and spending money IN Cuba sounds like it’s going to become much easier, thanks to a bilateral agreement that will permit Americans to use debit cards in Cuba. Can I tell you how thrilled I am about this? I hated dealing with cash only.

4. And we’ll be legally permitted to spend money in Cuba.
One of the trickier restrictions imposed on Americans traveling to Cuba is that we technically weren’t permitted to spend money there. I was on a White House conference call about Cuba this afternoon, in which we were informed that Americans will be allowed to return to the States with up to $400 worth of goods. $100 of that $400 can be alcohol (Havana Club!) and cigars (Cohiba! Romeo y Julieta!).

5. I predict that the restricted access to US travelers (imposed by the US government, not the Cuban government) will be the next domino to fall.
And believe me when I tell you that there are dedicated staff members at all the major air carriers, hoteliers, etc. who will be ready, willing, and able to get you to Cuba as soon as they’re legally permitted to do so. Any major player in the market has a Cuba Plan just waiting in the wings. In the meantime, if you’re American and you want to travel to Cuba, you can read my SATW-award-winning article about how to do so here.

6. Cuban Americans can now send more money–a lot more money–to family members in Cuba.
This is one of the most interesting changes and one that’s likely to have a considerable impact.

7. President Obama has charged Secretary of State Kerry with reviewing Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Also a big deal.

8. The US will establish an embassy in Havana.
This has been touted as really big news, but I’m not sure it is. There’s already a “Special Interests Section” in Havana that is staffed by Americans and does embassy-like functions. What I’m still wondering is whether we’ll get a functioning Cuban Embassy in the States. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. is a largely ineffective quagmire where no one ever answers the phone and US policy has made it extremely difficult for Cuban Americans with Cuban passports to complete basic transactions. I speak from firsthand experience.

9. The US will support major telecoms expansion.
What this means exactly isn’t totally clear yet, but given all the recent exposes about USAID (see: Zuzuneo and attempt to manipulate thought via Cuban hip hop), I’m going to withhold speculations and judgments por ahora.

10. Cuba will release 53 political prisoners indicated as such by the US.
Big deal? Yes. But questions remain about Americans who exiled themselves to Cuba and whether/how they will be affected by the diplomatic thaw. Among them are Black Panther members, such as Assata Shakur.

11. The US will expand commercial trade with Cuba.
Many Americans aren’t aware of this, but the US has had trade with Cuba for years. Still, there are some significant changes under the new policy, including the removal of restrictions that affect third countries engaging in trade with Cuba. Previously, for example, cargo ships that made ports of call in Cuba were not allowed to come to the US within six months of docking in Cuba. It was a lame but effective attempt to compel other countries to go along with the US embargo of Cuba.

A complete list of the changes as issued by the White House can be found here.