We are monitoring the breaking news that the State Department will order the departure of all non-essential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana. We hold as a top priority the well-being of our diplomats, and urge a swift investigation into the mysterious incidents that have inflicted harm upon them. We note Cuba’s efforts to investigate the matter, and Secretary Tillerson’s promise to continue cooperation with Cuba’s government. We are pleased diplomatic channels through which to cooperate on a matter such as this exist, and believe engagement is more important now than ever.
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What’s in a Name?
“The appointment of an ambassador is a common sense step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between our two countries.”
Those were the words of former President Barack Obama when, one year ago this week, he nominated Jeff DeLaurentis to the position of U.S. Ambassador to Cuba.
Alas, the Senate declined to vote on DeLaurentis’ nomination, leaving him to serve out the remainder of his three-year shift in Havana as the embassy’s chargé d’affaires. (DeLaurentis completed his term in July.)
Now, exactly 12 months later, we’re reminded of the misguided, schismatic criticisms of engagement that denied him a hearing, in the wake of the news that the U.S. will withdraw 60 percent of its staff from the U.S. Embassy in Havana and issue a warning cautioning U.S. travelers against visiting the island.
Let’s be clear: the presence of an embassy has played a key role in the development of productive, bilateral relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Through its diplomatic presence in Havana, the U.S. has held numerous bilateral dialogues and signed agreements with Cuba on issues including cooperation in law enforcement and national security, environmental protection, and public health. These exchanges have had real, tangible effects—massive increases in the seizure of narcotics and the resumption of commercial flights between the two countries, to name a few.
Diplomacy matters, and having an ambassador to direct the U.S.’ diplomatic efforts matters, too.
Last September, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said of DeLaurentis’ nomination, “Rewarding the Castro government with a U.S. ambassador is another last-ditch legacy project for the President that needs to be stopped.”
This line of thinking misses the point. Assigning an ambassador is a not a “reward” to a foreign government, but rather, a key component of promoting U.S. interests abroad. Titles matter, and formally appointing an ambassador expands the diplomatic work that a U.S. mission abroad can accomplish. Leaving an ambassadorial post open is a self-defeating policy that only limits the U.S.’ ability to facilitate dialogue.
In the wake of the mystifying “sonic incidents” in Havana, it is more important than ever that the U.S. demonstrate its commitment to engagement. In his meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez emphasized, “It is essential to count on the effective cooperation of the US authorities” in Cuba’s investigation into the events.
Filling official roles, like that of an ambassador, shows foreign nations that the U.S. is serious about diplomacy.
Moreover, in a situation like this one, it is important to keep channels of communication open. In times of uncertainty, our diplomats play a crucial role in ensuring that all parties are working effectively toward a common goal—in this case, ensuring the safety of diplomats in Havana.
As President Obama said last September, “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 … we only hurt ourselves by not being represented by an Ambassador.”
Rubio was right about one thing, though. Placing an ambassador in Havana would certainly create a lasting legacy—one of commitment to diplomacy and bilateral cooperation.
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