The event was put into motion during Obama’s historic efforts to open up relations between the two governments after almost 60 years of acrimonious political relations. For festival organizers, maneuvering through politics became logistically challenging with the Trump administration’s change in policies toward the Cuban government and the sharp reduction in U.S. Embassy personnel in Havana following a series of unexplained health incidents.
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Even before the recent changes in U.S.-Cuba policy, the festival's organizers had 200 visas to process at the time of Trump's inaguration. “My goal was to do this festival and to bring these artists here. It was on the books three years ago and we were very far along,” said Adams. "So, we had to arrange for the artists to go through the embassy in Mexico City to get their visas.”
Adams added that “the American people don’t necessarily get to see these artists in this way… and can’t wait.” With American tourism dropping significantly in Cuba this year because of the new travel restrictions as well as warnings issued after mysterious health incidents plagued the U.S. Embassy in Havana, organizers and supporters hope it makes a positive impact for both Cuba and the US.
On the festival's first day on Tuesday, the legendary Omara Portuondo, 87, known to fans around the world as the "Diva" of the musical group Buena Vista Social Club, performed to a cheering and sold-out audience.
“It brings me such joy and pride to share my feelings, in the music and in the humanity here,” Portuondo said after her performance.