Obama names first ambassador to Cuba in five decades

Washington: The United States has tapped Jeffrey DeLaurentis, America’s top diplomat in Havana, to become the first official ambassador to Cuba in five decades.

“The appointment of an ambassador is a common sense step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between our two countries,” Obama said in a statement.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a thaw in relations in December 2014.

Since then, Washington and Havana have taken once-unthinkable steps to mend ties after more than half a century of enmity.

President Obama has visit Cuba and relaxed portions of the US embargo imposed since 1962.

Flights have resumed and cruise ships can now sail from Miami to Havana.

US companies like Airbnb and Netflix now operate in Cuba and American hotel group Starwood recently opened a Sheraton in Havana.

DeLaurentis is already in Havana and previously worked in Bogota and at the United Nations.

But his nomination, which requires Senate confirmation, is likely to face stiff opposition in Congress, where Cuban American lawmakers have sought to garner local support by opposing Obama’s policies.

Any senator could place an anonymous hold on the nomination.