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Group of Ill. lawmakers heads to Cuba for "trade mission"

Ill. Rep. Jack Franks.
(Illinois General Assembly website)
Ill. Rep. Jack Franks.

Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Sean Crawford used in this report.

About a dozen Illinois state lawmakers are headed to Cuba this week for what's being called a trade mission.

Representative Jack Franks says the visit could boost state exports to Cuba.  The Democrat from Woodstock will be leading the week-long trip.  It's been 12 years since former Governor George Ryan traveled to Cuba in a high profile effort to build a new market for Illinois' farm economy.  Franks says trade with Cuba has fallen off since then.

"At one time our sales to Cuba for agricultural products exceeded $650 million," Franks said. "Now we're about 10 percent of that. With unemployment at about 10 percent in Illinois, I'm trying to put Illinoisans back to work by selling products."

Franks says some are still leery of trading with a communist country. But he points out the U.S. does a lot of business with China, a country that also has a dismal human rights record.

No taxpayer money is being spent on the trip. Franks says he's paying his own way and expects many of the lawmakers will use campaign funds. While in Cuba, Franks says the delegation hopes to meet with President Raul Castro.