Last updated: 10:08 AM ET, Wed September 28 2016

President Obama Nominates US Ambassador to Cuba

Destination & Tourism | Patrick Clarke | September 28, 2016

President Obama Nominates US Ambassador to Cuba

PHOTO: The National Capitol Building in Havana, Cuba (photo via Flickr). 

In what has the potential to be another key step toward normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba, President Barack Obama nominated the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years Tuesday, selecting career Foreign Service officer Jeffrey DeLaurentis, according to the New York Times.

DeLaurentis' appointment is pending approval from the Senate, where his nomination is sure to be met with significant resistance.

Nonetheless, the President spoke highly of DeLaurentis and believes he can spark the change necessary to inspire Congress to lift a decades-long trade embargo.

"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," President Obama said in a statement.

While Republican Senator Marco Rubio said the "nomination should go nowhere" until Cuban President Raul Castro's regime progresses significantly on human rights and political freedom, per the Times, the White House argues that appointing DeLaurentis is a necessary step toward achieving that change.

READ MORE: More Wi-Fi Access Promised In Cuba

"Having an ambassador will make it easier to advocate for our interests, and will deepen our understanding even when we know that we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government," added Obama. "He is exactly the type of person we want to represent the United States in Cuba, and we only hurt ourselves by not being represented by an ambassador."

DeLaurentis' nomination comes nearly two years after the Obama administration began its efforts to relax restrictions on travel between the U.S. and Cuba. While tourism is technically still off limits, Americans can receive approval to visit the Caribbean island so long as they qualify under any one of a dozen different categories, including family visits and educational activities.

Since President Obama announced his travel-friendly policy on Cuba in December 2014, the U.S. has reopened the American Embassy in Cuba and the first U.S.-operated hotel has opened in Havana.

What's more, this past summer saw the long-awaited commencement of direct commercial flights between the two countries, with JetBlue making history Aug. 31.

While the administration's efforts over the past 20-plus months have already made Cuba more accessible to American travelers, Tuesday's nomination signals a potential key move toward bridging the two destinations. 

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