Obama appoints first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in over 55 years

But the Republican Congress is unlikely to confirm his appointment.

Jeffrey DeLaurentis, second left, chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, starts the second day of negotiations with Cuban officials, in Havana, Cuba, Jan. 22, 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa
Jeffrey DeLaurentis, second left, chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, starts the second day of negotiations with Cuban officials, in Havana, Cuba, Jan. 22, 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

President Obama appointed the first American ambassador to Cuba in over 55 years on Tuesday. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who has been the current charge d’affairs in Havana since 2014, is now awaiting to become the first person to take the role since Philip Bonsal served under Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960.

https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse/status/780882251450085376/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Before DeLaurentis can take the position on an official basis though, he will have to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. And the prospect of that happening looks to be slim considering strong opposition from that side of the aisle.

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“This nomination should go nowhere 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,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

Cuba’s revolution ended in 1959 and brought to power the regime of Fidel Castro. The United States placed an embargo on the nation, which has affected Cuba’s trade and technological advances. Relations worsened with the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 that tried to topple the government, but relations have thawed though under Obama’s administration.

In December 2014, the United States and Cuba had a detente. “I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961,” Obama said in a speech on December 17, 2014. “Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.”

Nearly four months later, Obama shook hands with Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother and successor as Cuban president. It was the first meeting between the head of state of the United States and Cuba since 1961 — the year Obama was born.

Obama visited Cuba in March of this year, becoming the first president to do so since Calvin Coolidge 88 years ago, and flights are now flying to Havana directly from the United States. But the embargo on Cuba is still in place. Like DeLaurentis’ appointment, it can only be lifted by a congressional vote. Cuba named an ambassador to Washington shortly after the embassy opened this past July.

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“We only hurt ourselves by not being represented by an ambassador,” Obama wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “If confirmed by the Senate, I know Jeff will build on the changes he helped bring about to better support the Cuban people and advance America’s interests.”

He also said it would be a “step towards a more normal and productive relationship” with the island nation.