By NAN Contributor
News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Fri. Sept. 30, 2016: The current Chargé d’affaires ad interim of the Embassy of the United States in Havana and a veteran diplomat is the Obama administration’s choice for the first official ambassador to Cuba in more than five decades.
Jeffrey DeLaurentis was selected by President Obama for the post but now faces Senate approval. DeLaurentis previously worked in Bogota and at the United Nations and is a graduate of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He also studied toward a doctorate in political science at Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
“Having an ambassador will make it easier to advocate for our interests, and will deepen our understanding even when we know that we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government,” Obama said following the announcement on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. “The appointment of an ambassador is a commonsense step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between our two countries.”
But DeLaurentis’ nomination is likely to face stiff opposition in Congress, where Cuban-American lawmakers have sought to garner local support by opposing Obama’s policies.
Any senator could place an anonymous hold on the nomination. Several Republican lawmakers have opposed Democrat Obama’s outreach to the Communist regime led by Castro.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American presidential contender in the Republican primary race who ultimately lost to Donald Trump, blasted Obama’s nomination.
“A US ambassador is not going to influence the Cuban government, which is a dictatorial and closed regime,” Rubio said in a statement.
But Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and foreign operations, on the other hand, argued for DeLaurentis’ confirmation.
“The Cuban people have their ambassador in Washington. The American people need their ambassador in Havana,” Leahy said in a statement.
The Obama pick comes more than a year after Cuba and the US restored full diplomatic relations and almost two years after President Obama and President Raul Castro announced a thaw in relations.
The U.S. President visited Cuba earlier this year and also relaxed portions of the US embargo imposed since 1962. Flights from the US have resumed; cruise ships can now sail from Miami to Havana and US companies like Airbnb and Netflix now operate in Cuba and hotel group Starwood, acquired last week by Marriott International, opened a Sheraton in Havana last June.