Obama names first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in 55 years, but faces Senate fight

WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 (UPI) — For the first time since the early 1960s, the United States has a full ambassador to Cuba — although the revived post might not actually come to fruition if Republicans in the Senate get their way.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated Jeffrey DeLaurentis to the position, since both countries now have restored diplomatic relations.

“I am proud to nominate Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis to be the first U.S. Ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years,” Obama said in a statement. “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.

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“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. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Jeff has extensive experience in Cuba and Latin America.”

DeLaurentis is no stranger to Cuba. Since 2014, he has served as Obama’s top diplomat in Havana but had not risen to full ambassadorship due to the lack of formal relations between Cuba and the United States between 1961 and 2015.

However, a U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, implemented after Fidel Castro‘s revolution took power in 1960, remains in place.

The White House/Twitter

However, DeLaurentis still needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate — an iffy prospect because the chamber is controlled by Republicans, many of whom do not favor improved U.S. relations with the communist island nation.

Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both Cuban-Americans, have each previously said they oppose full diplomatic relations with the Caribbean country, at least until Raul Castro‘s regime makes substantial political and human rights reforms.

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“President’ Obama’s appeasement of the region’s only totalitarian regime has been a complete disaster,” Rubio said Tuesday. “A U.S. ambassador is not going to influence the Cuban government, which is a dictatorial and closed regime. This nomination should go nowhere.”

The nomination of DeLaurentis is expected to follow a similar track to the president’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court — another move that’s been placed in limbo by GOP senators who refuse to give the federal judge any type of confirmation hearing.

The fates of Garland and DeLaurentis will likely be settled by whoever succeeds Obama in the White House, some analysts believe.

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