10/22/13 - Crain's Chicago Business - Cuba's top US diplomat visits Chicago this week
Cuba's top U.S. diplomat visits Chicago this week
Cuba's top diplomat in the U.S. visits Chicago this week for four days of
meetings with business leaders, academics and Cuban-Americans.
It's the first trip to the Windy City for Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez,
who became chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington last March.
It's also the first time a high-ranking Cuban official has visited the
city since 1999, when arrangements were made for former Gov. George Ryan
the first U.S. governor to lead a group of business, political and
cultural leaders to Cuba since Fidel Castro seized control in 1959. It was
dubbed a humanitarian mission rather than a trade mission to downplay
concerns about violating the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, which is
still in effect after more than 50 years.
(Cuba and the U.S. don't have embassies or ambassadors in each other's
countries because they don't have official diplomatic relations.)
Trade and the prospects for collaboration between Illinois, Chicago and
the island nation are high on the agenda of Mr. Rodriguez, according to
Charles Serrano, chairman of the Council on Latin American Relations, a
Chicago nonprofit group that is co-sponsoring the trip. The Cuban diplomat
could not be reached for comment.
So far, trade hasn't lived up to the excitement raised by Mr. Ryan's
first visit. But Illinois exports are up so far this year to $3.7 million
through July, compared with $2.6 million for all of last year. The state's
biggest exports this year are meat and dairy products, according to
WiserTrade.org, a data tracking firm in Leverett, Mass.
Cuba, which imports more than half its food, has turned to other countries
for supplies since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Food is one of the
that the U.S. allows to be exported to Cuba, under strict regulations.
Mr. Rodriguez will start his visit on Oct. 23 at the University of Chicago
and the DuSable Museum of African American History before heading to a
reception at the Union League Club. On Oct. 24, he'll meet with students
at Robert Morris University and Columbia College Chicago before heading to
a private dinner and meetings.
On Oct. 25, he is scheduled to discuss Cuba 50 Years Later: From
Revolution to Evolution at John Marshall Law School, whose Cuba Interest
Study Group is the trip's other co-sponsor. Finally, at Lazo's Tacos
Restaurant in Bucktown on Oct. 26, he will conduct a question-and-answer
session on recent changes in Cuban travel regulations and immigration
rules for Cuban-born U.S. residents and U.S. citizens of Cuban descent.
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