Gold Star: Dan Restrepo
"This is a step to extend a hand to the Cuban people in support of their desire to determine their own future."
Dan Restrepo, a special assistant to President Obama and senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, did something notable this week as the first administration official in recent history to brief reporters at length in Spanish, according to White House officials and veteran White House correspondents.
The task of announcing a reversal of longstanding U.S. restrictions on Cuba fell to Restrepo and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. White House reporters greeted Restrepo's presence with skepticism, wondering why President Obama himself was unable to make such a momentous announcement.
"I don't know Spanish, the president knows a few words of Spanish, but I think what's important today is we're doing this in a way that is not just going to be heard by a few people. We're doing this so that Cuban Americans can hear it loud and clear the steps that the President is taking," Gibbs said.
Indeed, Restrepo's comments aired widely across Latin America, on CNN en Español (the Spanish sibling of the [fourth-rated?!] news network) and Univision, which commands large audiences in major American cities and most of Latin America:
CNN en Español:
Just as the president worked to restore relations with European allies with big speeches and small gestures during his recent journeys across the Atlantic, the administration's decision to have Restrepo explain the change in policy in Spanish was a wise, if ceremonial decision that will likely yield long-term good in Latin America. Delivering administration policy in a language spoken by a growing number of U.S. residents and in the area of the world most impacted by the decision makes perfect sense and is consistent with Obama calling on reporters from Black, Hispanic and military news outlets or granting White House access to bloggers. All of those moves also designed to expand the White House's message and reach to wider audiences.
Restrepo only recently joined the administration from the Center for American Progress, where he served as director of the Americas Project.
“He’s fun, he’s funny and a sharp wit and sense of humor. He challenges all of us to think about this world in different ways," said Winnie Stachelberg, a senior vice president with the Center. Restrepo, whose father is Colombian, was an early supporter of candidate Obama and earned rave reviews for his Spanish skills.
Restrepo thus earns this week's Gold Star because of the way he utilized those linguistic skills.
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