Today, President Obama nominated career diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis to be the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than five decades, according to a report by Reuters.
DeLaurentis, who has been the top American official at the U.S. embassy in Havana since relations were restored last year, marked Obama’s latest move to go as far as he can in normalizing ties between the former Cold War foes before he leaves office in January.
The nomination must be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, which is seen as a long shot, especially in a presidential election year and given strong resistance expected from Cuban-American lawmakers such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
“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,” Obama said in a statement.
While Obama has use executive authority to limit or eliminate travel and trade restrictions with Cuba, the U.S. embargo against Cuba remains in place, a continuing irritant in relations. Only Congress can lift the embargo, and the Republican-controlled legislature is not expected to do so anytime soon.
The most onerous of the Congressional embargo legislation is the The Helms Burton Act of 1996. The Act treated Cuba as a tangible malignancy in need of exsanguinating alienation. The Act extended the 1960 embargo to apply to foreign companies trading with Cuba, and penalized foreign companies trafficking in property formerly owned by U.S. citizens but confiscated by Cuba after the Cuban revolution.
The Act also includes a variety of provisions intended to bring about “a peaceful transition to a representative democracy and market economy in Cuba.”
The Act attracted protest from a wide circle of American allies when it was passed; the UK went so far as to pass laws to counter-act the Act by imposing criminal sanctions for compliance with certain provisions of the Act while in the UK.