THE WHITE HOUSE
Ocean Passages was honored to be invited to an event today at the White House for the two-year anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The attendees included key diplomats, academics, businesses, non-profits and leading members of the Cuban-American community – all looking forward to build on the significant progress toward fuller engagement between our peoples.
The discussion featured candid reflections by some of the individuals most personally responsible for the lengthy, secret negotiations that led to the restoration of embassies in both capitals. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes described obtaining the (literal) blessing of the Pope. José Cabañas, Cuban Ambassador to the U.S., hailed the two dozen bilateral accords since signed or now being negotiated, from oil spills to counter-terrorism to telecommunications. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, U.S. Chief of Mission in Havana, who was twice previously posted in Cuba, emotionally articulated the essential humanity of reuniting the Cuban family. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recalled the Chilean Ambassador’s comment that watching the U.S. flag raised again at our Havana embassy was like removing a stone from the hemisphere’s shoe. The collective message was of unbridling ourselves of the baggage of the past and giving way instead to the clear will of both the American and Cuban people for the free exchange of ideas and commerce.
For Ocean Passages, the timing of the four-hour event couldn’t have been better. The Harvey Gamage had just arrived in Havana for productive discussions with Cuban marine environmental officials – and the ship will reach Cienfuegos this weekend to start our winter programming. The White House event was an opportunity for us to engage not only with senior officials of the Treasury, State and Commerce Depts. responsible for Cuban policy – but also with other organizations across the country together helping to forge a constructive path forward. Living and working with Cuban colleagues and friends during our winter educational programming, we will strive in our own modest way to fulfill the spirit of reconciliation reflected in today’s White House commemoration.