“It is an honor for me to serve President Obama and the American people in Havana,” Caulfield said in a brief statement released by the Interests Section.
“The United States and Cuba share a long and complex history. I am looking forward to getting to know Cuba and the Cuban people while advancing U.S. interests here.”
There was no immediate reaction from Cuban officials.
Relations between the United States and Cuba have been in a deep freeze since shortly after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, with successive U.S. governments pushing for political change and greater individual freedoms on the island. Among other sticking points between the two countries, Havana chafes at Washington’s economic embargo and the democracy-building programs the Cuban government considers aimed at overthrowing it.
U.S. restrictions on travel and remittances to the island have relaxed under Obama, but Caulfield arrives as U.S. officials insist that improving relations will be difficult given the continued imprisonment of Alan Gross, a Maryland man sentenced to 15 years in Cuba for crimes against the state after he was caught bringing banned communications equipment onto the island.
On Monday, Obama criticized the pace of change in Cuba and said the communist-run island has not been aggressive enough in opening its economy or its political system.
Caulfield was previously charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela and spent much of that time effectively in charge of that mission, first when Caracas expelled the U.S. ambassador and later when it rejected Obama’s chosen replacement.
The Cuba and Venezuela posts share some important similarities: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez counts himself a friend and ally of former Cuban President Fidel Castro and, like Cuban officials, frequently rails against the U.S. “empire” and its foreign policy.
In Caracas, Caulfield developed a reputation for being a low-key diplomat who acknowledged differences between the two governments while, at least publicly, focusing on opportunities to seek common ground. He generally refrained from responding in kind to Chavez’s often-heated rhetoric.
Caulfield has served overseas missions in a half-dozen Latin American nations plus the United Kingdom, the Philippines and Portugal, and also held Washington-based jobs focusing on the Americas, according to the statement from the Interests Section.
He replaces former Section chief Jonathan Farrar, who left the island in July.