About a dozen state lawmakers are headed for Cuba next week for a trip they hope will boost Illinois exports.
The six-day tour is being led by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago. They said no taxpayer dollars will be spent on the excursion. Franks said he will pay for the trip out of his own pocket, and Burke said he and most of the other lawmakers will use campaign funds.
Franks, who chairs the House International Trade & Commerce Committee, said his interest is in helping Illinois regain a market share in exports to Cuba. It once peaked at $650 million in mostly agricultural products following George Ryan’s groundbreaking 1999 trip as the first sitting U.S. governor to go to Cuba and meet with Fidel Castro, but Franks said now Illinois’ exports to the island nation are about one-tenth of what it was.
“We figured, if we went down, maybe we could re-establish these connections that we had before that now seem to have fallen dormant,” Franks said.
The lawmaker insisted the trip will “not at all” be a junket, saying the itinerary is full. He has asked for a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro and expects to meet with the nation’s trade officials.
Ryan went to Cuba during his first year as governor on what was billed as a humanitarian mission but also was aimed at putting Illinois in position to be looked at favorably should full trade relations open up.
The half-century-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba remains in place, but the Obama administration has loosened travel regulations to the standard first put in place under President Bill Clinton and then turned back under President George W. Bush.
Burke, who represents a Latino district on the Southwest Side, said his desire is to help out the “state’s desperate need for money.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times