The White House Tuesday nominated Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who has been the chief of the U.S. Embassy in Havana since it reopened in July 2015, as the “first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years.”
“Jeff’s leadership has been vital throughout the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and the appointment of an ambassador is a common sense step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between our two countries,” said President Barack Obama. “There is no public servant better suited to improve our ability to engage the Cuban people and advance U.S. interests in Cuba than Jeff.”
The United States and Cuba began the process of normalizing relations on Dec. 17, 2014 and the two countries reopened respective embassies on July 20, 2015. Before that, relations between the two countries had been handled by lower level Interests Sections.
Within two months of reopening its embassy, Cuba nominated José Ramón Cabañas, who had served as chief of its Interests Section in Washington since 2012, as its new ambassador to the United States. But the United States delayed for 14 months in nominating its ambassador to Cuba.
DeLaurentis, a veteran diplomat and officially charge d’affaires, has been serving as the chief of the U.S. Embassy in Havana since its reopening and had been at the helm of the former Interests Section in Havana since August 2014. He had served in Havana twice previously.
Prior to his Havana posting, DeLaurentis served for three years as the alternate representative for special political affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and was deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. He began his State Department career in 1991.
DeLaurentis is a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and Columbia University Graduate School of International Public Affairs.
Even though DeLaurentis has been a highly respected chief of mission, his confirmation in the waning months of the Obama administration could face an uphill battle in the Senate.
Obama said that “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.” Not having an ambassador, he said, “We only hurt ourselves.”
Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer said confirming DeLaurentis would further efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. “The move will advance the United States’ goal of protecting our economic and national security interests, as well as empower an advocate who fully embodies our nation’s strong support for improved human rights in Cuba,” he said.
But Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said a U.S. ambassador in Cuba won’t have any influence on the “dictatorial” Cuban government. “This nomination should go nowhere,” he said, “until the Castro regime makes significant and irreversible progress in the areas of human rights and political freedom for the Cuban people, and until longstanding concerns about the Cuban regime’s theft of property and crimes against American citizens are addressed.”