George Ryan, who took big trip to Cuba, praises move

  • Then Gov. George Ryan is greeted by the people of Cuba and Fidel Castro on his humanitarian mission in 1999.

      Then Gov. George Ryan is greeted by the people of Cuba and Fidel Castro on his humanitarian mission in 1999. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/17/2014 4:36 PM

Former Gov. George Ryan, who made a famous trip to Cuba in his first year as governor 15 years ago, praised President Barack Obama's move Wednesday to establish diplomatic ties to the country.

Ryan said he wrote more than one letter to Cuban leaders since leaving federal prison to ask for the release of imprisoned American Alan Gross, who was released Wednesday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He didn't get a response.

"I would really like to congratulate the president," Ryan said.

The 1999 delegation Ryan led to Cuba made national news at the time. Ryan's delegation numbered nearly 50 people and was billed as a humanitarian visit, the first by an American governor in more than 40 years. It included a state dinner with Fidel Castro.

"The Cuba trip was one of the highlights of my governorship," Ryan said.

Now, Ryan says Obama's move could open up trade avenues for Illinois, particularly in the agriculture business.

"Everybody's going to be clamoring to go down there and do business," Ryan said. "That's the thing I tried to sell when I went down there."

Ryan, a Republican from Kankakee, served one term as governor from 1999 to 2003 and later served time in federal prison following a conviction in corruption charges.

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