State lawmakers head to Cuba next week on trade mission
State Rep. Jack Franks is leading a trade mission to Cuba next week.
(Tribune/E. Jason Wambsgans)
By Ray Long Clout Street
3:09 p.m. CDT, September 1, 2011
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,"
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."