U. S. Ambassador To Cuba

A Suggestion, Mr. President
      DeWayne Wickham has been a top columnist at USA Today, America's largest newspaper, for the last thirty years, since 1985. In his Tuesday column this week he announced he is retiring from that ubiquitous, high-profile job. Now I believe President Barack Obama should appoint DeWayne Wickham as the first American Ambassador to Cuba since 1961.
       In addition to three decades as a highly respected columnist for USA Today, DeWayne Wickham has also been a commentator for CBS News and he currently teaches journalism at Morgan State in Baltimore.
        This Alan Diaz/AP photo was used to illustrate DeWayne Wickham's column in USA Today on April 20th. Marco Rubio, the freshman U. S. Senator from Miami and already a Presidential candidate, had just excoriated President Obama's Cuban overtures. Rubio wailed about Cuba's "bloody shirts," among other diatribes. DeWayne Wickham, not unexpectedly, was the only national journalist in the United States with the basic integrity and the sheer guts to take Rubio to task for falsely labeling Cuba and for self-servingly excoriating a good deed by the two-term President of the United States. Mr. Wickham devoted his April 20th column to challenging Rubio on the topic of Cuba, a challenge no other major U. S. journalist has the guts to do. He waved Rubio's "bloody shirt" back at him and he did so by asking Rubio "WHAT ABOUT LUIS POSADA CARRILES?" During a vitally important Presidential campaign, no other U. S. journalist is courageous enough to ask Rubio that question...or to ask Rubio's mentor, Jeb Bush, "WHAT ABOUT ORLANDO BOSCH?" When a Bush or a Rubio can use the U. S. media to demean a decent two-term President for his sane approach to Cuba while never having to answer questions about Carriles, Bosch, etc. in Miami, it is a reminder of how badly U. S. journalism needed the integrity and guts of Mr. Wickham.
       As this cogent White House photo illustrates, President Barack Obama listens to what DeWayne Wickham has to say. In fact, two years ago when President Obama made the final decision about trying to normalize relations with Cuba, he discussed his plans with a Cuban expert he trusted -- DeWayne Wickham. At the above session it is believed by Washington insiders that Mr. Obama asked Mr. Wickham, "DeWayne, is there anybody in Cuba other than the Castros who has power-making decisions and personal influence that I or my people can seriously talk to about normalizing relations with Cuba?" It is believed by Washington insiders that Mr. Wickham replied: "Yes, sir, Mr. President, there is such a person in Cuba. Her name is Josefina Vidal. Her title is lofty. She is Cuba's Minister of North American Affairs. But her decision-making and influence transcends that title. She is a patriotic Cuban. She is brilliant. She is fluent in English. She has lived in Washington at the Swiss Interests Section building. She has spoken about U.S.-Cuban relations at the Kennedy Library in Boston when Caroline Kennedy and some of America's top historians gave her a standing ovation. So...yes, sir, Mr. President. You can talk to Josefina Vidal. When I want to know Cuba's side of controversial issues, I fly to Havana and talk to her. She's smart. And she's honest."
           President Obama accepted DeWayne Wickham's candid suggestion regarding Josefina Vidal. At another White House session, that is President Obama flanked by DeWayne Wickham on his right and his top adviser Valerie Jarrett on his left. Mr. Wickham had again confirmed to the President that there was a Cuban, Josefina Vidal, that he and his people could talk to. The President then turned to Ms. Jarrett and solicited her opinion, which coincided with Mr. Wickham's. President Obama had his Cuban opening. For the next twenty months President Obama learned that DeWayne Wickham's suggestion regarding Josefina Vidal was valid and so he moved very boldly forward with his plans to normalize relations with Cuba.
       After President Obama accepted DeWayne Wickham's suggestion about Josefina Vidal, a suggestion that was seconded by Obama's top Latin American Minister, Roberta Jacobson, there were months of clandestine U.S.-Cuban meetings in Canada with even Pope Francis in Rome making vital telephonic suggestions. Then the world watched Vidal and Jacobson {above} hold news conferences to explain what had transpired during their four highly publicized diplomatic sessions -- two in Havana and two in Washington. These two talented diplomats astonishingly affected major changes in U. S.-Cuban relations that had been mired down in Cold War bellicosity for almost six decades. Alan Gross was freed from a Cuban prison; the Cuba 5 were freed from U. S. prisons; Cuba was removed from the U. S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list; Cuba was removed from another list that designated Cuba as a major trafficker in humans and drugs; more freedoms to travel to Cuba were relaxed; more commerce between the two neighboring nations became possible; and for the first time since 1961 they re-opened embassies in their capitals.
         None of the recent positive changes in U.S.-Cuban relations would have been possible if DeWayne Wickham had not convinced President Obama that, yes, there was in Cuba a non-Castro that he and Roberta Jacobson could talk to. Josefina Vidal lived up to the extremely high expectations of her.
    Fittingly, DeWayne Wickham's final column for USA Today this week  {August 4th} was entitled: "Witness To History For 30 Years." Also fittingly, Cuba burnished strongly in his mind. He said he prolonged his stay with the national newspaper because of the Obama presidency. He wrote: "It allowed me to push for, and chronicle, another seismic change in the political life of our nation: The normalization of relations with Cuba." Later in the column he wrote: "Afro Cubans...were the Castro government's most loyal supporters. As companies from across the world set up shop in Cuba, the U. S. embargo became a blockade against American businesses shut out of a marketplace of 11 million people. For years, I hammered away at the bad judgment that has kept this embargo in place while the United States expanded economic and political ties with communist China and Vietnam. The embargo against Cuba, I argued in my column and in meetings with White House officials, pandered to the rearguard of a Cold War that ended with the Soviet collapse." Cuba very appropriately dominated his last column.
      Mr. President, I believe DeWayne Wickham would make an excellent U. S. Ambassador to Cuba. He is your friend and Josefina Vidal's friend. In his April 20th USA Today rebuke of Senator Rubio's harangue against you, Mr. Wickham explained to his readers and to Mr. Rubio that U.S.-Cuban relations is "a two-way street," not a one-way dead-end proposition designed to benefit only a few self-serving entities. As he retires on his own terms after thirty years with USA Today, DeWayne Wickham might accept your appointment, Mr. President, as Ambassador to Cuba. If so, you could not make a better choice. Yes, anti-Castro zealots Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez in the U. S. Senate have vowed to block any such appointment but their extremist views haven't deterred you so far, nor should they. Your pro-Vidal assessment is both brave and correct. Your appointment of DeWayne Wickham as Ambassador to Cuba will, I think, be approved by enough Senators not named Rubio or Menendez. And that, Mr. President, would be a good appointment for most Americans and for most Cubans. As you have cogently stated, 50+ years of the same failed policy is 50+ years too long. It is past time, as DeWayne Wickham has advocated, for the majority, not a few, to be served by a sane Cuban policy.

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