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Obama’s Cuba Ambassador: Tears But Hope

Former Ambassador to Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis speaks at The Cuban Revolution at 60 symposium at Dalhousie University, Halifax. Photo: Will McLernon

On the early afternoon of June 16, 2017, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the United States ambassador-designate to Cuba, sat in his office in Havana and watched TV as recently elected Donald Trump ripped up what the new US president called the Obama administration’s “terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime.”

DeLaurentis, who had been intimately involved in the two-year process that created that deal and began to re-set US-Cuba relations, remembers “watching all our hard work evaporate. And I knew in my gut it was going to get much worse.”

The career diplomat offered his personal reflections on that tumultuous time during a keynote address to “The Cuban Revolution at 60,” a major international academic conference at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Twenty-one days after Trump’s speech in Miami, DeLaurentis left Cuba. As he made his way through a reception line of the embassy’s household staff, he recalls that, “after shaking the first hand,” he broke into tears. While he acknowledges it wasn’t “very diplomatic” of him, he notes that, after six months of stoically watching the new US government dramatically reverse course on Cuba, “I could no longer hold in my reaction.”

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It had been a long journey from December 17, 2014, when DeLaurentis delivered the news to 50 embassy staff that — after 18 months of secret negotiations — Washington and Havana had agreed to try to develop a new, less hostile relationship with one another. “The applause” that day, he says now, “was deafening.”

It had been an even longer personal journey for DeLaurentis who arrived in Cuba for his first of three assignments in 1991 believing that the US policy of “isolation and pressure” would lead to the “desired result,” only to realize quickly that that policy was not in the long-term American interest.

Although he told his audience Saturday that US-Cuba relations has now “descended” to its “lowest point in decades” and that it will likely get even worse as Cuba becomes an American election issue for Trump once again, he remains optimistic for the long term, in part because of the “real conversations” that began in 2015-16. “While we didn’t go far enough to make [the changes] permanent,” he says, “we created the conditions to return to the table.”

For more information on the Cuban Revolution at 60 conference.

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