By Greg Bishop
Illinois News Network
The head of the Illinois Cuba Working Group worries that politics is getting in the way of opening another market for Illinois’ goods, and thinks the state should lead in normalizing trade relations despite growing tensions between the Trump Administration and the Caribbean nation.
Like something out of a spy novel, news surfaced recently that U.S. officials in Cuba were victims of a mysterious auditory attack, making them sick on the island nation just 70 miles off Florida’s coast.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that 15 Cuban embassy officials were ordered to leave their office in Washington, D.C.
“That decision was made,” Nauert said, “due to Cuba’s inability to protect our diplomats in Havana, as well as ensure equity in the impact of our respective operations.”
Nauert said 22 U.S. government officials in Cuba were victims of some kind of attack on their health.
This is a major reversal of efforts to normalize relationships that former President Barack Obama announced before he left office.
“We need to discover why our embassy staff are being targeted,” Illinois Cuba Working Group’s Paul Johnson said. “And we need to bring the people who did that to justice, but there’s also a whiff of politics in all of this.”
Johnson said pulling staff from both locations doesn’t help relations or the ongoing investigations. He doesn’t think the Cuban government is behind the mysterious attack. The State Department said the U.S. and Cuban investigators are independently looking into the matter.
Regardless, Johnson said the Trump Administration’s moves is a setback for efforts to improve the economic partnership between not just the U.S. and Cuba, but Illinois and Cuba.
“If we’re going to eliminate another market, another option for our farmers to be exporting to, that does impact everybody’s bottom line,” Johnson said.
Illinois commodities need more markets, not fewer, Johnson said.
He’s urging Illinois to press forward in leading on this issue of normalizing trade with Cuba.
“We have to be the leaders on this issue,” Johnson said, “because obviously the leadership coming out of D.C. is poor. It’s not in the interest of the majority of Americans. It’s not helpful.”
Johnson said the U.S-Cuba Agriculture Forum he had planned for later this month in Chicago has been postponed indefinitely because of the uncertainty.