Members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation are accompanying President Barack Obama on his historic three-day trip this week to Cuba.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Reps. Robin Kelly (D-IL,2), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9) and Cheri Bustos (D-IL,17) are among the 39 members of Congress visiting Cuba with Obama and the first family, who arrived in Havana on Sunday. The visit marks the first such trip to Cuba by a U.S. president since 1928.
On Monday, Obama plans to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro. Obama is also scheduled to give a speech to the Cuban people on Tuesday and attend a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuban National Team, among other itinerary items.
"I'm excited to join President Obama in Cuba. The changes he has made to America's Cuba policy mark a new and long overdue diplomatic chapter in our hemisphere," Durbin said in a statement. "Reestablishing travel and trade relations means real benefits for people in Illinois and across the country, from farmers to small businesses to working families. But this policy change is about more than just travel and trade--it's about opening Cuba to new ideas, new values, and improved human rights that our 50 year old policy of exclusion could not achieve."
Schakowsky added: "President Obama overturned an ineffective and outdated policy when he re-established diplomatic ties with Cuba. I am sure that this new age in our relationship with our close neighbor will prove beneficial both to American manufacturers, farmers, and tourists, as well as the Cuban people. I am honored to join the president on this historic visit. I look forward to working to increase economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation between the United States and Cuba, and maybe scouting some new talent for the Cubs."
This is the second recent trip to Cuba by Bustos, who visited the country back in October with Rodney Davis (R-IL,13) to seek out agricultural opportunities for Illinois farmers.
"By establishing new trade partnerships in Cuba, we have a real opportunity to grow our agricultural economy and create more good-paying manufacturing jobs in Illinois," Bustos said in a statement about this week's trip to Cuba. "Cuba represents a new market for Illinois exports and President Obama's decision to embark on this historic diplomatic mission represents a major step forward for our region and our State. I'm honored to be a part of this delegation and I look forward to working with our equipment manufacturers, agricultural producers and exporters to grow our economy."
Kelly also spoke to the issue of trade in her statement about the trip.
"I'm excited to take part in this historic trip to Cuba with the President," the congresswoman said. "This trip represents an important opportunity for American trade and diplomatic relations. Illinois in particular stands to gain a great deal from a normalizing of trade relations with Cuba that could be a real boon to our state's manufacturing and agricultural sectors. I'm looking forward to exploring ways to expand opportunities in Cuba for Illinois businesses."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. of the Rainbow Push Coalition is also among those reacting to Obama's historic visit to Cuba:
President Barack Obama is setting a high bar for the next man or woman who sits in the Oval Office. His history-making family trip to Cuba today is just the latest example of why he will be such a tough act to follow and sorely missed by the country and the world.
The trip brings us a step closer to peace and economic development for us and our neighbors throughout the entire hemisphere - a hemisphere in which English is the minority language. A good neighbor policy is smart and productive and the right thing to do. Cuba is our neighbor and now we are beginning to act like it.
Cuba has been open to such a policy for a long time. That is what President Fidel Castro told me in 1984 when I visited the island nation on a mission of mercy and peace. Two days later, I brought home 48 Cuban American and Cuban prisoners turned over to me by the Cuban government in a sign of good faith and a deep desire for normalization.
"Whatever our conflicts have been in the past, we must forgive each other, we must redeem each other, respect each other, and move on," I said then after Fidel Castro met me at the airport in Havana. "We must give peace a chance."
It took President Obama to do it, despite a do-nothing Congress committed to obstruction. The world can only hope that the next President of the United States has the good sense and the courage to follow in his footsteps.