Illinois Governor Criticizes US Embargo Against Cuba

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

( - Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) arrived in Havana Thursday on his second trip to the communist run island since 1999. He will address a Castro government medical conference and explore ways to get more Illinois medical products delivered to Cuba.

Radio Havana reported that Ryan arrived in Havana accompanied by several Illinois business executives and state government officials.

He told reporters at Havana's Jose Marti airport that the United States embargo against Cuba should be lifted because it hasn't benefited anybody.

"The embargo serves no one's best interests," Ryan said, adding that it has robbed the people of Illinois - and the people of the United States - of a vast consumer market.

"It's estimated that potential agricultural sales alone could easily top one billion dollars annually," Ryan said. "This would be a boon to our farmers, our agricultural producers who are constantly looking for new markets for our products."

Ryan said he is interested in selling medicine, farm machinery and other "everyday goods" to Cuba as well.

"It's time to end the embargo and fully welcome Cuba to the international marketplace," he said . He said his 1999 trip to Cuba was helpful in drawing renewed public attention to the U.S. trade embargo.

During their visit to Cuba, Ryan's delegation will donate a million dollars' worth of medicines to Cuban hospitals. They plan to return to Illinois on Saturday.

The Chicago Tribune quoted Cuban observers as saying that a meeting between Ryan and Castro is unlikely. However, Ryan reportedly held talks on Thursday with Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon

"We'd like to go back home having sold Cuba some pharmaceuticals or medical supplies they need," he told executives and Cuban health officials at that meeting.

While such sales are unlikely to be concluded on the current trip, aides suggested, any deals in coming months would represent the first U.S. medical sales to Cuba under new U.S. guidelines enacted last year that relax the standards for medical and food sales to Cuba.

While U.S. law permits food and medicine sales to Cuba, they must be paid for in cash rather than financed, which has irritated cash-strapped Cuban officials.

President Bush has said he will not relax the Cuban embargo until Castro frees all political prisoners and holds free and fair elections.

Ryan and his entourage aren't the only Americans visiting Havana. In fact, a steady stream of lawmakers, business people, and even tourists have arrived in Havana in recent months.

Radio Havana reported that representatives of Cargill, Inc., a U.S. agribusiness firm arrived in Cuba on Thursday. They accompanied a shipment of corn that Cuba recently purchased from the United States as part of a one-time trade deal approved by the Bush administration to help out Cuba in wake of last year's damage from Hurricane Michelle.

The Cuban American National Foundation believes food sales will only bolster the Castro government.

Mariela Ferretti, a spokesperson for the Cuban American National Foundation, has in past complained that the United States should not be doing business with such a "morally bankrupt regime."

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