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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 8, 1999

Ryan Schedules Humanitarian Trip To Cuba

SPRINGFIELD - Governor George H. Ryan said today he has accepted an invitation to visit Cuba and has applied to lead a groundbreaking humanitarian mission in the near future to build bridges between the people of Illinois and Cuba.

If a license for the trip is granted by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Ryan would be the first sitting American governor to visit Cuba in more than 40 years. A full itinerary and list of participants would be released at a later date.

Ryan was invited to visit the island by the highest-ranking Cuban diplomat in the United States, Ambassador Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, chief of the Cuban Interests Section. Remirez de Estenoz and his wife Patricia were the guests of Governor and Mrs. Ryan at the Executive Mansion earlier this week. Springfield was just one stop during a two-day tour of Illinois by Remirez de Estenoz, who also visited Chicago, Champaign, Decatur and Carbondale.

"I look forward to visiting Cuba in the near future," Ryan said. "And I look forward to establishing friendships and relationships that will last well into the 21st Century."

The delegation would include representatives of state and local governments, agriculture, education, health sciences, business, the arts and the media. The group will meet with selected Cuban leaders to discuss the humanitarian needs of the island and how Illinois could help meet those needs.

The group also will deliver humanitarian gifts to the Cuban people - food, medicine, educational supplies and other items to help improve the quality of life on Cuba.

"The purpose of this humanitarian mission is to demonstrate to the people of Cuba that the people of Illinois care," Ryan said. "The island needs a lot of help in terms of food, medical supplies and drugs, school supplies and other basic needs."

Ryan said the debate over political philosophies that divide the United States and Cuba will continue regardless of whether he visits the island or not.

"It is my belief - and the belief of many people in Illinois - that isolating the Cuban people is a policy that is not in the best interests of Cuba, of Illinois, or of the United States," Ryan said. "I don't think we should use the staples of life as a political weapon."

Ryan added that as a world leader in agriculture, manufacturing, medical technology and pharmaceutical production, Illinois has much to offer the people of Cuba.

"It is my responsibility as governor to build bridges - economic, cultural and humanitarian - between Illinois and other countries," the governor added. "I take that responsibility very seriously."

Last year the Illinois House of Representatives became the first state government body in the nation to formally call for a relaxation of current U.S. trade sanctions on Cuba. The House unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by state representatives Edgar Lopez, D-Chicago and Dan Rutherford, R-Pontiac, that urged the Congress to allow humanitarian shipments of food and medicine to the people of Cuba.

Because of the existing restrictions on contact with the Cuban government, Ryan and members of his staff have been working with the U.S. Treasury Department, the U.S. Department of State, the Cuban government and Cuban-Americans to lay the groundwork for the trip.

"A lot of people have put in a lot of hard work to make this humanitarian mission possible, and I want to thank them for sharing my belief that we should build bridges and create friendships when people are in need," Ryan said.

Over the summer, U.S. Treasury officials granted special permission for a five-person advance team to travel to Cuba and hold face-to-face negotiations to finalize a trip by the governor. That advance work was completed in September.

In the application letter to the Treasury department for the full delegation, the governor's office outlined the nature of the mission:

"This proposed visit would be undertaken on behalf of the citizens of Illinois, with the overall purpose of the visit being to demonstrate not only the compassion of Illinois citizens toward the Cuban people, but also their strong desire to build ties with the citizens of Cuba," the letter reads.

"The citizens of Illinois who have been invited to make the proposed visit to Cuba with Governor Ryan have a demonstrated expertise in the fields of education, health care, agriculture, civic and cultural affairs or have shown a commitment to the humanitarian welfare of the Cuban people. The Illinois legislators, in particular, are interested in promoting democracy and the emergence of democratic institutions in Cuba."


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