The Cable

Kerry to Visit Havana on Aug. 14 as U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Post Remains Empty

Kerry is set to visit Cuba Aug. 14. It remains to be seen if there will be a U.S. ambassador there to greet him.

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Hours after the United States and Cuba opened embassies in their respective capitals Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced he would visit Havana on Aug. 14 to raise the U.S. flag at the American diplomatic outpost there. But it remains unclear who will be serving as the top American emissary on the island when he arrives.

Naming a U.S. ambassador to Cuba is one of the final hurdles in the current thaw between the United States and its neighbor 190 miles south of Miami. It could also be one of the most difficult. Whoever President Barack Obama chooses will face a tough fight in the Senate. There, some of the 2016 Republican presidential candidates — among them Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), both fervently anti-Castro — have vowed to block whomever the president appoints.

It’s still not clear who that person will be. For months, U.S. officials and experts believed career diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, was the man for the job. When news of the embassy reopening broke late last month, former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) was floated as a possible candidate. Whoever gets the post, it will be one of the most high-profile positions in the State Department.

On July 6, the State Department announced DeLaurentis would be charge d’affaires at the American embassy in Cuba.

Kerry broke the news of his impending trip on Twitter Monday afternoon. Speaking at a subsequent press conference, the secretary of state welcomed Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla to the U.S. diplomatic club. Kerry praised a “new beginning” of ties between Washington and Havana but said that obstacles to full normalization of relations remain. Key aspects of the U.S. embargo on Cuba remains in place, and American businesses seeking to do business on the island face a wide variety of bureaucratic and legal obstacles.

“The historic events we are living today will only make sense with the removal of the economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes so much deprivation and damage to our people, the return of occupied territory in Guantanamo, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba,” Rodriguez said at the Cuban embassy earlier Monday.

The thaw in relations between Washington and Havana started last year, in December, when Cuba let go of imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross in exchange for three of the so-called Cuban Five — a group arrested in 1998 after being sent to Florida to spy on Cuban exile groups.

Along with the release of Gross, who was in a Cuban jail for five years, a wide array of other sanctions were removed in December. A series of travel restrictions were also lifted, though tourism is still not allowed. U.S. debit cards now work in Cuba, and some U.S. banks have opened accounts at their Cuban counterparts.

The next high-level step in the détente happened in April, when Obama met with current Cuban President Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, at the Summit of the Americas, held in Panama. The two shook hands, marking the first time the U.S. president and his communist counterpart met in more than five decades. In late May, the United States removed Cuba from its official state sponsor of terrorism list.

Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

Correction, July 20, 2015: Cuba is approximately 190 miles south of the Florida city of Miami. A previous version of this article said that the country was 90 miles south of Miami.

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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