Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL2) and several members of the Illinois delegation, joined President Barack Obama on his historic visit to the island nation of Cuba, reported Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times on Sunday. This is the first presidential visit in 88 years. The last time was a visit by President Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace Coolidge, visiting then-Cuban leader Gerardo Machado y Morales and his wife, Elvira Machado, in Havana on January 19, 1928, according to The Atlantic. This was the first time that Air Force One landed in Cuba, since President Coolidge came in 1928 by battleship in a three-day trip. The president remarked on this, saying, “Back in 1928, President Coolidge came on a battleship, it took him three days to get here. It only took me three hours.”
Sen. Durbin has been involved in the recognition of Cuba and was instrumental in the release of Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor imprisoned in Cuba for more than five years, according to Sweet of the Sun Times. Durbin visited Gross in a Cuban prison in 2012, returned to the island for his release in December 2014 and was back in January 2015 as a member of the first congressional delegation to travel to Cuba once Obama announced his new Cuba initiative. Rep. Robin Kelly is traveling Sunday with President Obama as part of his historic trip to Cuba to further diplomatic and trade relations with the island nation.
Rep. Kelly is the sole member of the Illinois Delegation on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and her district includes the largest inland port in America, with 1800 farms, and manufacturers like Ford Motor Company. “I’m committed to helping open international markets to Illinois businesses,” said Rep. Kelly. “I’m excited to take part in this historic trip to Cuba with the President. 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.” In total, five Illinois Democrats made the trip. In addition to Sen. Durbin and Rep. Kelly, Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Bobby Rush and Cheri Bustos also made the trip.
According to the White House press pool accompanying the president on the trip and in addition to the Congressional delegation, the wife and daughter of the late Major League Baseball Player Jackie Robinson, Mrs. Rachel Robinson and Ms. Sharon Robinson also made the trip.
Obama will be spending the next two days here in Havana and Sunday’s itinerary includes a walking tour of Old Havana and a trip to The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, which is one of eleven Roman Catholic cathedrals on the island of Cuba, where Obama will meet with the 79 year-old Cardinal Jamie Ortega of Cuba.
Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino is the Latin Rite Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Havana and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He is the second Cuban elevated to Cardinal.
The president’s first stop in Havana was meeting with embassy staff, but because of the rainy weather, he did it not meet them at the embassy, but at the Melia Habana hotel. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the charge d’affairs, introduced him.