In a historic speech this morning, Barack Obama officially announced the United States and Cuba are re-establishing diplomatic relations. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Havana later this summer to open an embassy.
Of course, embassies are led by ambassadors. Ambassadors must win confirmation from the U.S. Senate, and several Republicans, led by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have vowed not to confirm any ambassador unless further steps are taken.
“Today I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the republic of Cuba and reopen embassies in our respective countries,” Obama said in his announcement from the White House's Rose Garden. "The progress we make today is another demonstration we don't have to be imprisoned by the past."
Interestingly, the speech was also broadcast live on Cuban television.
The announcement was not met with enthusiasm by many of Miami-Dade's Cuban-American Republicans.
"Opening the American Embassy in Cuba will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
“It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President’s December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people. I intend to oppose the confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed. It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end,” Rubio echoed in his statement.
Expecting the announcement, Rubio sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry in early June laying out the four points he thinks should be addressed before he'd support the idea of sending an ambassador to the nation.
"Establishing diplomatic relations with the Castro regime without verified improvements in the [human rights] faced by the Cuban people would not be consistent with our values as a nation and the intent of the U.S. Congress, as codified in law. It is also important that pro-democracy activities not be sacrificed in the name of 'diplomacy' just so that we can change the name of a building from 'Interest Section' to 'Embassy.'"
Terrorists at Large
"Secondly, I urge you to make central to the current talks the repatriation of known terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice. The FBI believes there are more than 70 fugitives from justice that are being provided safe-harbor by the Castro regime."
This building served as the US Embassy in Havana until 1961, currently serves as the United States Interest Section, and will likely be officially restored to its embassy status later this summer.
Photo by Escala | WikiCommons CC2.0
"Third, there are billions of dollars of outstanding American property claims against the Cuban government. ... There are thousands of verified American claimants who have been waiting for decades to be compensated for the Castro regime's illegal expropriation of their property and assets. "
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No Restriction on the Ambassador's Access to All of Cuba
"If we expect our diplomats to be the emissaries of democracy, they must have the freedom to travel the island and meet with pro-democracy groups. The ability to move freely around the island is paramount to observing the human rights abuses that the Castro regime continues to perpetrate against its own people. Also, the ability to securely supply and upgrade any U.S. facility at our sole discretion should not be impeded."
It's unclear, however, how fast Obama will move to nominate an ambassador or when Cuba will officially send one to America.
Many observers expect Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who leads the U.S. Mission to Cuba, to be named to the spot, but Foreign Policy reports that former Sen. Chris Dodd may also be in the mix.