September 27, 2016 at 7:32 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Obama nominates DeLaurentis to become Cuba ambassador

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President Obama on Sept. 27, 2016, announced he has nominated U.S. Chief of Mission to Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis to become the country’s first ambassador to the Communist island in more than 50 years. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba)

President Obama on Tuesday nominated Jeffrey DeLaurentis to become the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years.

“Jeff’s leadership has been vital throughout the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba,” said Obama in a statement the White House released. “The appointment of an ambassador is a common sense step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between our two countries.”

DeLaurentis, a career diplomat, began his latest post in Havana in August 2014. Obama announced four months later the U.S. would begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba that ended in 1961.

DeLaurentis officially became the chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana in July 2015 with the official restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

LGBT activists from Cuba, U.S. meet with DeLaurentis

Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights President Nelson Gandulla is among the independent Cuban activists who have met with DeLaurentis. The U.S. government granted Orquídea Martínez, the mother of Alejandro Barrios Martínez, a Cuban national who was among the victims of the June massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., a visa that allowed her to attend her son’s funeral in Florida.

“He has expressed his interest in learning about the problems facing the Cuban LGBTI community,” Gandulla told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “He has expressed his support for the work that we are doing in Cuba.”

Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles met with DeLaurentis in Havana in July 2015 and in March of this year respectively. Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, and Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida sat down with DeLaurentis in May while they were in the Cuban capital to attend events around the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

“President Obama has made an outstanding choice for U.S. Ambassador to Cuba,” Almeida told the Blade on Tuesday in a statement. “For Cuban Americans like me who travel regularly to visit our family members in Cuba, it’s important to know that we have such a smart and well respected diplomat representing us and America’s interests and values during this historic process of normalizing relations and opening new opportunities for both Americans and Cubans.”

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From left: Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida, U.S. Chief of Mission in Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis and Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on May 13, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Tico Almeida/Freedom at Work)

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer have applauded DeLaurentis’ nomination, even though it faces an uphill battle in Congress from lawmakers who oppose the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is of Cuban descent, has previously said he would block any potential ambassador to Cuba that Obama nominated. The Florida Republican reiterated his opposition in a statement his office issued on Tuesday.

“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,” said Rubio, according to Politico.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), whose father was born in Cuba, is also a vocal critic of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and the Communist island.

“It’s great to see Republicans like Sen. Jeff Flake and Rep. Tom Emmer praising Mr. DeLaurentis, and it would be shameful for hardliners like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to continue relitigating old and tired debates by obstructing President Obama’s excellent choice,” Almeida told the Blade. “Rather than wasting time obstructing this nomination, Cruz and Rubio should take their first ever trip to Cuba to meet with Cuban entrepreneurs and citizens who will overwhelmingly tell them it’s long past time to end the failed embargo.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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