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updated: 9/1/2011 7:06 PM

State lawmakers going to Cuba

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  • Fidel Castro addresses reporters and students at the University of Havana during former Gov. George Ryan's 1999 trip to Cuba.

       Fidel Castro addresses reporters and students at the University of Havana during former Gov. George Ryan's 1999 trip to Cuba.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Jack Franks

      Jack Franks


SPRINGFIELD -- State Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, will help lead an Illinois delegation of state lawmakers and others to Cuba Tuesday.

The delegation will consist of a handful of present and former lawmakers, but Franks didn't have a full list of who was attending. They plan to stay until Monday, Sept. 12, he said Thursday.

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The goal, he said, is to meet with government and economic leaders to try to foster trade between Illinois and Cuba, an attempt made notably by former Gov. George Ryan, who made high-profile trips to the country in both 1999 and 2002.

"We wanted to go down and re-establish those contacts," Franks said.

Franks said all on the trip would pay their own way, so tax dollars won't be used. He said state Rep. Dan Burke, a Chicago Democrat, will also help lead the trip.

The United States has long had a trade embargo with Cuba, but some doors have opened for Illinois since Ryan's trip.

Al Romero, a dean at Southern Illinois University who made a trip to Cuba in January to spur educational connections, said that despite the embargo, Illinois already provides agricultural products.

"And corn is one of them," he said.

He said he thought opening more trade with the country during tough economic times makes sense.

"I don't think anyone can seriously argue we shouldn't be trading with Cuba," Franks said.

Dara Goldman, director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said laying the groundwork in Cuba while political changes might be brewing there could be helpful.

"There certainly are opportunities for highly, highly productive partnerships," she said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn said the governor doesn't plan on making the trip.

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