Truth To Power

10.31.14 4:17 PM ET

Samantha Power Praises Cuba for Ebola Response

Does Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations’ praise of Cuban medical professionals signal a thawing of relations between the two countries?

During the past 54 years, the United States has had no diplomatic relations with Cuba, has plotted to assassinate Cuba’s Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, orchestrated the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, and has continued to impose a severe economic embargo on the island nation 90 miles off the coast of Florida.        

Yet on Friday morning, the fraught history of American-Cuban relations didn’t stop Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, from going out of her way to single out Cuba for effusive praise for its work in the West African Ebola crisis.        

At one point she even expressed gratitude to the Cuban government for its help in fighting the lethal epidemic.        

“Although I did not encounter them personally, I have to commend Cuba for sending 265 medical professionals early,” said Power, who just returned from an Ebola fact-finding trip to Liberia and other countries suffering from the epidemic. “I think they announced that going on almost two months ago, And they are sending another 200 on top of that 265. That is a big gap and a big need.”        

Power, who made her remarks during a panel discussion on the Ebola crisis at the Manhattan headquarters of Thomson Reuters, mentioned Cuba favorably three times during the session.    

Given Power’s closeness to President Obama and her influence in the White House, it could signal a thawing of diplomatic relations with a country that U.S. policy has tried to isolate and damage.

Or it might simply have been an unscripted moment that, nevertheless, could have an impact on next week’s midterm elections--particularly in Florida, where former governor Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat who has allied himself with Obama, is fighting a razor-thin campaign battle against the Republican incumbent, Rick Scott.        

Speaking of her visit this week to the Liberian capital of Monrovia, Power praised Cuba’s medical assistance along with that of other countries.         

 “To see these Americans or Europeans or Cubans or whoever it is in their full protective gear, in the scorching heat, working two-hours shifts, because that’s all you can tolerate being in that suit,” gave Power a sense of pride, she said.

“Yet they’re doing it,” she continued, “and the pride they feel when they get decontaminated and they take off the suits, and they have performed this service--and the pride we feel.”        

Thomson Reuters’ Sir Harold Evans, editor at large for the news service, told the ambassador, “It’s interesting that Cuba was active early on, and our relations with Cuba are strained. Do we have any relations with them on this one?”        

“I think we’re working side by side, a it were,” Power answered. “There’s no integrated effort, in part because the UN is doing the command and control. But we’re very grateful to them for doing this.”        

After the session ended, Power parried The Daily Beast’s question on whether she was signaling a diplomatic thaw with Cuba.        

“We’re working on Ebola side by side,” she tersely replied.