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Governor Ryan Presents Draft Report On Cuba Mission

Press Release - Friday, December 10, 1999

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today released advance copies of his report on the 1999 Illinois Humanitarian Mission to the Republic of Cuba, along with a list of recommendations that call for a continuing dialogue between the people of Illinois and the people of Cuba.

A more formal report will be released at a later date.

"This report summarizes our trip and recommends several steps that we'll be taking in the future to continue the positive steps we made during the mission," Ryan said. "My hope is the Illinois-Cuba Council on Friendship will continue in the years to come to break

new ground in our relations with Cuba."


"1999 Illinois-Cuba Humanitarian Mission"
Governor George H. Ryan
State of Illinois
October 23-27, 1999


 Executive Summary

Illinois Governor George H. Ryan led a 45 member state delegation on an intensive, five-day humanitarian mission to Cuba October 23rd through the 27th, 1999. The diverse group - which included the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan (D-22), Illinois House Minority Leader Lee A. Daniels (R-46), Illinois Senate Minority Leader Emil Jones, Jr. (D-14), Illinois State Senator Todd Seiben (R-37), Illinois State Representative Edgar Lopez (D-4), Illinois State Representative Dan Rutherford (R-44), three members of the Governor's Cabinet, Allen Andreas, CEO of Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, Dan Martin, Director of E cosystems Conservation & Policy of the MacArthur Foundation, Anne Doris Davis, President of the Illinois Education Association, George Obernagle, President of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, Dr. David Chicoine, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, Dr. Carl Getto, Dean of the College of Medicine at Southern Illinois University, and Bishop Joseph Perry representing Francis Cardinal George and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago - committed over $1 million worth of donated humanitarian assistance (food, medicine and school supplies) from the people of Illinois to the people of Cuba. All humanitarian aid not carried and distributed by the delegation during the mission was sent or is in the process of being sent through Catholic charities.

The Governor and his party visited schools, hospitals, farms, churches and a synagogue; met with eight leading Cuban dissidents; had frank discussions with top Cuban government officials; a seven hour dinner meeting with Fidel Castro; and met with Cuban student leaders who attended a major address the Governor delivered at the University of Havana.

Although humanitarian in purpose, the mission was politically significant to many observers, Governor Ryan became the first sitting US governor to visit the island in over 40 years. The US government's policy - in place and essentially unchanged since 1960 - has been to apply economic and political pressure through the US imposed embargo to try to force Fidel Castro from power.

US policy towards Cuba has survived eight separate American presidents - from both political parties. It is a policy that has been largely driven by political strength of the Cuban exile community in South Florida. It clearly harms the economic interests of the American farmers by using food as a political weapon. And , it diminishes the United States' moral authority by continuing an embargo that has been condemned by virtually every other government in the world.

During a breakfast meeting at the residence of the Principal Officer of the US Interests Section in Havana, the Governor discussed the embargo with six ambassadors invited by the US State Department: Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Poland and the Vatican. All of them - without exception - agreed that the embargo is morally wrong, ineffective in its intended purpose, and should be lifted.

The Governor also met with eight leading Cuban dissidents invited by the US State Department to discuss human rights issues. Again, at the conclusion of the meeting, all eight participants - without exception - urged that the US Embargo be lifted.

The reality of the world in 1999 is far different from the reality of the world in 1960. In 1992, the $5-8 billion per year subsidy for Cuba from the former Soviet Union ended, and the Cuban economy went into a drastic decline. Cuba is no longer capable of exporting its communist revolution throughout the Americas. Rather than continuing to squeeze the Cuban economy, the US needs to consider what will happen in Cuba after Castro: Will the transition be orderly, or chaotic? Will we have a better opportunity to nurture democratic institutions in Cuba if we are actively engaged, or if we are excluded and isolated? Will US interests be better served if American business people are actively involved in helping Cuba move toward a market-based economy, or should we just leave it to the Canadians, the Mexicans, and the Europeans? What will the US government do if a chaotic transition of power in Cuba leads to a mass exodus of Cuban citizens to the US? Will social service agencies in the states such as Florida be overwhelmed, and will those states look to the federal government and US taxpayers for a bailout?

Just as significantly, some of the ambassadors and some of the dissidents expressed a view that the Castro government may actually wish to continue using the US embargo as a crutch with which to maintain control. The Cuban government is currently able to effectively direct the anger of the Cuban people towards the US embargo, and deflect any criticism of the economic policies of the Cuban government. Without the embargo, who would there be to blame?

Background of US Policy on Cuba

On the Governor's return to Chicago after five days in Havana, one of the mission participants remarked that Cuba seemed to be a "country frozen in time". The same could be said for the US government policy toward Cuba.

America's "Cuban Policy" has remained in place - essentially unchanged - since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. The economic embargo was imposed in 1962. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's, the US Congress sought to hasten the end of Castro's rule by "tightening the embargo" . The Congress passed the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the so-called Torricelli Amendment, to prohibit foreign-based subsidiaries of US corporations from trading with Cuba. When that, too, failed to have the intended effect, Congress passed the Helms-Burton law - the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 than made the embargo statutory.

Through all of these actions, America's policy towards Cuba is premised on "pressuring" the Cuban government to change, to promote more democracy and to respect human rights. The US has attempted to "isolate" Cuba from the world community.

In recent years - particularly since the January 1998 visit to Cuba by Pope John Paul II, there have been some modest humanitarian changes in Cuba that benefit the Cuban people. Cuban Americans and Cuban families living in the US are allowed to send "remittances" of up to $300 per quarter to close relatives still in Cuba. People-to-people contacts also have been enhanced, and food shipments have been authorized to independent entities.

President Clinton expressed a willingness to consider other measures to relax the embargo on food and medical supplies. The Governor's delegation believes that it may now be a historic opportunity for the US to re-evaluate its policy toward Cuba and focus on how to ease the eventual transition to a post - Castro regime. The delegation believes the United States should concentrate on what can be done in the short term to help the Cuban people meet certain basic human needs and to help more Cubans move toward a market economy. The long term goal should still be a peaceful transition to an open and democratic society.

Clearly, the 40-year-old US policy of embargo and isolation against Cuba has not succeeded in driving Castro from power, and it is unlikely to ever by successful. The Governor's delegation believes a more realistic approach would be to increase contact between the US and Cuba, increase travel between the US and Cuba, increase people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the US and Cuba, and to increase America's food and medical support for the Cuban people. Such an approach should not be viewed as "helping Castro", or "supporting the Castro regime". This approach would be viewed by the Cuban people and most of the world community as a gesture of friendship and respect for the people of Cuba.

General Comments/Observations

Soon after his election as Illinois' 39th Governor in November, 1998, George Ryan was asked by a bipartisan group of Illinois Hispanic leaders to consider steps to help provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Cuba. Earlier in 1998, the 118 - member Illinois House of Representatives unanimously approved a bipartisan resolution urging the Congress to ease the embargo - the first legislative body in the US to do so.

Why would a state like Illinois take a leadership role on this issue? The State has a relatively small Cuban-American community. Yet, the Illinois House noted that Illinois is the leading agricultural state in the nation, and food processing is one of the state's largest manufacturing sector. America's farmers have never believed that food should be used as a political weapon, and Illinois agricultural leaders have consistently voiced opposition to continuing the Cuban embargo on food.

Similarly, Illinois is home to several of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the nation, and that constituency also believes that it is wrong to use potentially life-saving drugs and medical supplies as political weapons.

George Ryan was elected Governor on the strength of his record: someone able to "cross the political aisle" and bring people together on a bipartisan basis in order to get things done.

Governor Ryan directed his staff to begin examining the US embargo against Cuba and the possibility of Illinois offering humanitarian assistance in January, 1999. The initial staff review was completed in six months. Preliminary contacts were made over the summer, and in mid-September, 1999, Governor Ryan dispatched his chief of staff and an advance team of five others to Havana for discussions about the parameters of a gubernatorial visit to Cuba. The advance team met with a variety of Cuban officials for two days. Two of the advance team spent one-half day at the US Interests Section in Havana.

On October 7, during dinner at the Executive Mansion in Springfield, Governor Ryan accepted an invitation to visit Cuba from Ambassador Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, Chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. Remirez offered the invitation while he and his wife were on a two day tour of Illinois, that included stops in Chicago, Springfield, Carbondale and Decatur. The same evening , the Governor's Chief of Staff faxed an official request for a license authorizing travel for a delegation to Mr. Richard Newcomb, Director of Foreign Assets Control at the US Treasury Department.

The letter to Mr. Newcomb explained that the Governor's "proposed visit would be undertaken on behalf of the citizens of Illinois, with the overall purpose 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 also stated, "Through interaction with Cuban citizens at meetings and receptions to be arranged with the assistance of the US Special Interests Section in Havana, visits to a primary school, hospital, university and independent farming operation, along with attendance at religious and cultural activities in Cuba, the delegation would seek to promote individual contact and future exchanges between citizens of Illinois and Cuba, as permitted by the United States Government."

The license request was granted late on the evening of October 18, and the mission departure was quickly arranged for Saturday, October 23.

Through a request for a waiver of existing regulations, the federal government also provided permission for a direct charter flight from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to Havana's Jose Marti International Airport. The aircraft for the delegation was generously provided courtesy of Illinois-based United Air Lines.

Illinois mission staff closely coordinated arrangements with the Office of Cuban Affairs at the US State Department. That office approved the Governor's itinerary in Cuba. The Director of the office, Mr. Charles Shapiro, personally "briefed" the Governor and key mission staff via video conference before departure. A detailed "briefing packet", supplied by the State Department, was provided to each mission participant. And, the Governor personally briefed the entire delegation before departure from O'Hare.

Governor Ryan and the Illinois delegation were allowed to visit Cuba under the US Government's "People-to-People" program - designed to increase contact and communication among all peoples of the world. The attached mission schedule, and the attached list of mission participants, both illustrate how the mission fulfilled the objectives of the "People-to-People" program. All mission participants were well-aware of the humanitarian purposes of the trip, and all knew that any "trade" discussions were strictly prohibited by US law.

The Governor articulated his objectives for the mission once the delegation arrived in Havana on October 23rd . The delegation was received at the airport by Ricardo Alarcon, President of Cuba's National Assembly, and separately, by Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, Chief of the US Interests Section in Havana.

At a meeting later that evening with Dr. Alarcon, several legislators and the Directors of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, Department of Agriculture and Department of Public Health accompanying the Governor sharply questioned the Cubans about the Assembly's February, 1999 approval of the "Law for Protection of National Independence and the Cuban Economy" (seeking to discourage contact between US and Cuban citizens). Dr. Alarcon, speaking entirely in English, defended the passage of the law for nearly thirty minutes. It should be noted that Castro later told the Governor that "some in Cuba were critical of Alarcon for speaking to the Americans in English, but he did so as a measure of respect for the Governor and his delegation." Following the meeting, Dr. Alarcon and other representatives of the Cuban government then hosted a reception for all members of the Illinois delegation.

On Sunday, October 24th, the Governor and many members of the delegation first attended Protestant religious services at the William Caray Baptist Church in Havana. The minister's message for the day was based on St. Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he noted that life must be approached "one step at a time." Delegates agreed with the Governor's observation that the message was an appropriate theme for the mission.

Following Protestant services, the Governor and his party attended a Roman Catholic mass at Havana's historic Cathedral de Cuba. The mass was concelebrated by Illinois mission participant Bishop Joseph Perry, representing Francis Cardinal George and the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In the afternoon, the Governor, Mrs. Ryan and the entire delegation visited the Jewish Community Center and a synagogue under reconstruction in Havana, and delivered donated items for religious instruction provided by the Jewish community in Illinois.

Sunday evening, the Governor and the Illinois delegation hosted a reception at the Palace National Hotel for several hundred invited guests - Ambassador Huddleston and staff from the US Interests Section, Ambassador Remirez and a number of Cuban government officials, and members of the "Cuban community" identified by the US Interests Section. The reception proved to be an extraordinary opportunity for members of the delegation to speak to Americans and Cubans at the same event, in the same room.

Monday, October 25th, the Governor had breakfast at Ambassador Huddleston's residence with ambassadors from Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Poland, Costa Rica and the Vatican. Each of the ambassadors expressed their views about the current political situation within Cuba; a belief that the US embargo was ineffective and should be lifted, and each expressed a concern about the transition in Cuba for life after Fidel Castro.

The Governor, Mrs. Ryan and the elected officials from the Illinois delegation then met with eight human rights activists and independent journalists at Ambassador Huddleston's residence. The group consisted of Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz Pacheco, President of the Commission Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliation Nacional; Jesus Yanez Pelletier, of the Internal Working Grop that provides support for the "Imprisoned Four"; Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, founder of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights; Vicente Escobal Rabeiro, representing the exiled Federation of Electrical, Gas, and Water Unions; Oswaldo Paya, the President of the Movimiento Cristiano de Liberacion, an affiliate of the Christian Democratic Movement; Odillia Collazo, the President of the Partido Pro-Derechos Humanos de Cuba, providing support for the "Imprisoned Four"; Mercedes Moreno, an independent journalist; and Manuel David Orrio, an independent journalist.

The dissidents described the plight of the so-called "Imprisoned Four"- four individuals arrested in July, 1997 after publishing a paper entitled "The Country Belongs to Us All". The four were held without trial for 20 months; a 1-day trial was held on March 1, 1999 at which no journalists or diplomats were permitted; they were convicted and sentenced to terms ranging from 3 ½ to 5 years.

The dissidents asked the Governor to request the release of the four; should he have the opportunity to meet with Castro.

Mr. Sanchez noted that the governor's visit was "very welcome" by the people of Cuba, because it provided an opportunity to try to "influence both governments to try to normalize relations". All of the dissidents agreed the mission represented "an important step forward." Mr. Escobal and Ms. Collazo noted that the US embargo is not achieving its desired effect, and is, in fact, being used as a "smokescreen" by the Cuban government to hide the bad economic times in the country. The group was united in the view that the embargo should be lifted, and the U.S. should begin looking for ways to help Cuba prepare for the transition to a new government after Castro.

The Governor and delegation then visited the William Soler University Children's Hospital to donate medical supplies and stuffed animal toys for the pediatric patients. An afternoon tour of the Latin American School of Medicine included a meeting with the Minister of Health. The delegation witnessed a lack of technology in the hospitals and inadequate access to medicine necessary to treat patients - even the most common conditions.

Ambassador Huddleston hosted a reception for the delegation at her residence Monday evening, and the guest list included a number of "mainstream Cubans" as well as representatives of the diplomatic corps.

On Tuesday, October 26th, the Governor and the agriculture delegates visited a cooperative farm and a cattle breeding research facility with the Minister of Agriculture. The delegation found that Cuban farmers face difficulties in the attainment of much needed fertilizer. Fertilizer which would improve the land and yield improvements to livestock, and in effect would increase milk production. The First Lady and other delegates visited several more medical facilities and schools. The Cuban government should be complimented for their persistence in educating their youth. Approximately 99% of primary school students finish sixth grade and 97.3% finish the ninth grade. The illiteracy rate is at an all time low of 1.9%.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Governor was advised by Ambassador Remirez that Castro wished to see the Governor and some of the delegation members at 6:30pm, to be followed by dinner with additional delegates and Cuban government officials.

Governor Ryan and Fidel Castro had a wide-ranging seven-hour discussion regarding agricultural production, economics, medical research and other issues. During the course of the conversation, the Governor raised the issue of the "Imprisoned Four" and asked for their release as a goodwill gesture. Castro replied that that was not possible. The Governor then asked that Bishop Perry be allowed to visit the "Imprisoned Four"; again, Castro said that would not be possible. The Governor followed-up the request made by Pope John Paul II that more Roman Catholic priests be allowed into Cuba. Castro said that they were trying to accommodate that request. The Governor asked for permission for the Chicago Tribune to establish a bureau in Havana. Castro said that he would consider it. At the request of the U.S. Interests Section, the Governor asked that Castro allow two children to leave Cuba so that they may obtain medical treatment in the United States. Castro provided a summary of medical records in English for both children, and said they were receiving appropriate care in Cuba. After a lengthy discussion, Castro agreed to allow 7 year-old Raudel Medina Alfonso and his mother to leave with the Governor on Wednesday, so that Raudel could be treated in North Carolina for a potentially fatal liver disorder. Castro also agreed to allow delegation doctors - Dr. Lisa Thornton, Dr. Robert Diaz and Dr. John Lumpkin - to examine the other child, 2 year-old Christian Prieto Sideris. That examination took place Wednesday morning, and the delegation doctors agreed that the child was already receiving all necessary and appropriate care, and it would not be in the child's best interest to be immediately transported to the U.S.

The delegation's final day in Havana, Wednesday, October 27th, began with a visit to the Abraham Lincoln Primary School - where the Governor and First Lady were joined by Anne Doris Davis, President of the Illinois Education Association, in donating school supplies to the students. The Governor announced that he had proclaimed six Illinois schools to be "Illinois-Cuba Friendship Schools," to continue the relationship between students in Illinois and students in Cuba. The schools named were: Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Springfield, Lincoln Elementary School in Elmhurst, Lincoln Cultural Center Montessori School in Kankakee, Lincoln Elementary School in Pontiac, Lincoln-Douglas Elementary School in Freeport, and Moos School in Chicago.

The Governor and the delegation proceeded to the University of Havana, where the Governor received a commemorative honor previously bestowed on Pope John Paul II and delivered that major address of the mission. The delegation was honored by the presence of Fidel Castro, seated in the front row of the audience for the Governor's speech. The Governor issued a proclamation (see attachment) following the speech, in which he declared his intent to establish an Illinois-Cuba Friendship Council upon his return to Illinois. Castro later held a lengthy, two hour press conference with the press contingent traveling with the Governor, and the delegation proceeded to Jose Marti Airport for mid-afternoon departure from Havana.

Upon arrival at O'Hare International Airport Wednesday evening, Governor Ryan and many of the members of the delegation held a brief, impromptu press conference to summarize the mission's accomplishments. Delegation members were surprised to hear that a spokesman of the US State Department was critical of the Governor's visit and the meeting with Castro. The headline of the Thursday Chicago Sun-Times said, "US Unhappy with Ryan Trip." Unfortunately, no one from the State Department had expressed their unhappiness directly to the Governor or his delegation. The Governor's Chief of Staff was told that - contrary to press reports - the State Department was "very pleased" with the Governor's visit. Also on Thursday, the Governor received a call from Fulton Armstrong, on the staff of the National Security Council at the White House. Mr. Armstrong said that the President was "delighted" with the Governor's visit, and would hope to hear specifics from him soon.

Conclusions / Recommendations

1. The Governor will issue an Executive Order creating the Illinois-Cuba Council on Friendship.

2. The Governor will encourage governors from other Midwestern states to visit Cuba.

3. Illinois will pursue the possibility of future medical exchanges/visits:

* Ophthalmologists

* Pediatric / orthopedic surgeons

* SIU School of Medicine / Latin American School of Medicine

4. Illinois will pursue the possibility of additional pharmaceutical donations to Cuba

5. Illinois will increase medical communication regarding vaccine research:

* Hepatitis B

* Meningitis B

* Leptospyrosis

6. Illinois will pursue the possibility of future agricultural exchanges/visits:

* University of Illinois College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences exchange

* Biotechnology exchange

* Fish farming exchange

* Dairy, livestock, poultry and grain exchanges

7. Illinois will pursue future agricultural donations to Cuba through ADM & Illinois Corn Growers Association

8. Illinois will increase communication regarding new product research such as Cuba's use of a sugar cane derivative to help lower cholesterol.

9. Illinois will pursue educational exchanges at all levels.

10. Illinois will pursue cultural exchanges, including a potential Cuba exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago during the year 2000.

11. Illinois will pursue sports exchanges, including a potential amateur baseball exchange during the year 2000.

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