Emily Mendrala is Executive Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. She was most recently a Director in the Legislative Affairs Directorate at the National Security Council where she advised the National Security Advisor on legislative matters pertaining to Latin America, Europe, Asia, Russia, nuclear nonproliferation, and multilateral affairs.  Prior to joining President Obama’s NSC, Emily worked at the Department of State as a Special Advisor to the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs on bilateral and congressional matters and, before that, as an advisor on Central America regional affairs.  Before joining the Department, Emily was a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and advised Chairman Kerry on Latin America, global women’s issues, foreign assistance, and trafficking in persons. She also previously served as the director of the educational wing of a nonprofit organization in Alexandria, Virginia working with a Salvadoran immigrant population. Emily is from Raleigh, North Carolina. She has an M.A. in International Economics with a concentration in Latin American Studies from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Virginia.  She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.


Sarah Stephens is the founding executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas and Director of the Atlantic Fellows Platform for Innovation and Narrative, a project that she co-created with The Atlantic Philanthropies to focus on Cuba. 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).

AndrewAndrew Fishbein is Policy and Advocacy Director at the Center for Democracy in the Americas. He works with key stakeholders in the U.S. government and outside constituencies to push for a decisive change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. Andrew previously served as Senior Congressional Affairs Officer at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, where he managed congressional outreach and policy programming, and focused on U.S.-E.U. relations and energy policy. Andrew holds a MSc in Energy Policy & Climate from Johns Hopkins University and a BSc in Political Science from Carnegie Mellon University. He lives in Washington, DC.

MariaMaría José Espinosa Carrillo is CDA’s Director of Programs and Operations, and leads strategic planning, development and finance to support the growth of CDA’s advocacy initiatives, Cuba Travel Program and public policy research efforts. María joined in March 2016, and played a key role in in the planning and execution of the 10th Anniversary Gala with U.S. singer-songwriter Dave Matthews and Cuban singer-songwriter Carlos Varela. Previously, as Cuba Travel Specialist at DMC of Miami, she designed exchange programs and custom trips for universities, nonprofits, corporations, research groups, and individuals interested in engaging key stakeholders in Cuba. Born and raised in Havana, María holds a MSc. in Economics from the University of Havana, a MSc. in Tourism and Environmental Economics from the Universitat de les Illes Balears, and a BSc. in Economics from the University of Havana. She is the recipient of multiple academic awards, including a scholarship from the government of Spain’s Agency for International Development Cooperation for her graduate work at the Universitat de les Illes Balears.

Joey DeMarco is CDA’s 2017 Stephen M. Rivers Memorial Fellow. He graduated from Miami University with degrees in International Studies, Latin American Studies, and Spanish. His interests include U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America and comparative politics. He previously served through AmeriCorps at Louisville’s Americana World Community Center, as well as interned at the Center for International Study and Development and the World Affairs Council of Kentucky. In January 2015, Joey traveled to Cuba with a university course, sparking his desire to work with the island in the future.

Fall 2017 Interns

Ryan Franquiz attends Hamilton College, and is currently participating in the school’s Washington Program. He is concentrating in World Politics with a focus in Latin American Relations. His interest in US-Cuban Relations stems from his background as a Cuban-American whose grandparents were both born on the island. Ryan received the prestigious merit-based Posse Scholarship to study at Hamilton. During a term in Hamilton College, he was awarded a Levitt Center Research Grant to study Latin American Political and Economic history. Ryan previously interned in Madrid at Alianza Por la Solidaridad, which helped spark his interest in entrepreneurship on the local level in Latin America.

Advisors and Consultants

annitaAnnita Seckinger is a soils and water scientist who works as a trips consultant to CDA. She is also the founder and president of the Watts Branch Watershed Alliance, an organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the Watts Branch Watershed in Montgomery Country, Maryland. Annita serves as president of Creation Care International, a non-profit dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Soils. In collaboration with Ray Weil PhD, Annita is currently working on a projects related to soil, health, restoration and reforestation in an indigenous community in northern Mexico.

Additionally, Annita has worked with children – both domestically and abroad – on issues pertaining to health and nutrition. For more than ten years, she has worked to bring healthy, locally sourced food back to Maryland’s elementary, middle and high schools while stressing the importance of environmental education for young people of all age groups. Annita holds degrees from the University of Maryland and the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden.

David-Dreyer-New-Photo-300x300David E. Dreyer is a senior principal at TSD, Inc.  His work has taken him across the U.S. and abroad on assignments that included working at the Sydney and Athens Summer Olympic Games, conducting communications audits for public and private sector organizations, advising the Ecumenical Patriarch of Eastern Orthodoxy, and providing strategic counsel to CDA’s public education campaign to change U.S. policy toward Cuba and the region.

In addition, David served previously as Deputy White House Communications Director for President Bill Clinton and as Senior Advisor to U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin. For fourteen years, David was a trusted advisor to Democratic Members of the U.S. Congress.

Photo_Linda_GarrettLinda Garrett is senior policy analyst on El Salvador. Ms. Garrett is a writer, journalist, community organizer and human rights investigator. Her extensive experience with El Salvador started in 1981 when she co-founded two projects in Los Angeles to assist Central American refugees; twenty-eight years later, El Rescate and the Clínica Msr. Romero continue to provide social, legal and health care services in the Pico-Union District of Los Angeles. After serving El Rescate as director and fundraiser, she moved to El Salvador and documented human rights, social, political and military developments from 1985-1995.

Following the 1992 Peace Agreement, Ms. Garrett collaborated on El Rescate’s Index to Accountability Project; she was also a consultant to the United Nations-sponsored Truth and Ad-Hoc Commissions, and an investigator for the 1994 United Nations Commission to investigate illegal armed groups. During this time, she compiled two books on human rights which were published anonymously, and she was also a contributor to the Salvadoran magazine Tendencias.

After 1995, Ms. Garrett worked as a journalist in Vietnam, directed a community organizing project with undocumented immigrants in the state of Georgia, and participated in a reconciliation project in the Balkans. She returned to El Salvador as an election observer in 2009.

Dr. Dan Hellinger is a CDA contributor and the author of our update on Venezuela, Caracas Connect.  Dr. Hellinger is a professor of political science at Webster University and has been following Venezuelan events closely since his first visit there in 1978. He has published several books and a wide range of articles on the country,  and has served a president of the Venezuelan Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association.

Collin Laverty is a Cuba consultant at the Center for Democracy in the Americas.  He speaks Portuguese and Spanish and has lived, studied and conducted research throughout Latin America. Collin graduated with honors from the College of Charleston, where he majored in Political Science.  He coordinated CDA’s Cuba program from 2008-2010, helping to organize and accompanying fact-finding and research delegations of policymakers, academics and experts to Latin America.  He has performed extensive research on developments in the region over the years, contributing to CDA publications and offering opinion pieces in the Havana Times, Huffington Post, Progreso Weekly and Venezuela Analysis.

After leaving CDA, Collin studied at the University of California, San Diego.  In May 2012, he completed a Master’s degree at the Institute for International Relations and Pacific Studies, where he was a FLAS fellow and managing director of the International Policy Solutions Journal.  After graduating, Collin founded Cuba Educational Travel, through which he now organizes and leads people-to-people delegations to Cuba.