EXCLUSIVE: George Ryan returns from Cuba, insists embargo must go
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Former Gov. George Ryan just returned Thursday from a whirlwind trip to Cuba at the invite of their government.
It was the Cuban way of saying thanks for being the first U.S. governor to lead a humanitarian trade mission to Cuba in 1999.
“I just wanted to see if anything had changed in the past 19 years,” said Ryan, 84, in a phone interview late Wednesday night.
“It’s been like a trip down memory lane — but things have changed,” he said.
“It was a kick, fun” said Ryan, who noted there seemed to be fewer heroic posters of Fidel Castro in Havana since the last time he was here.”
“We were told Castro did not want that form of recognition in Cuba after he died,” he said. “No statues. Who knows?
“But the newly built state capital is amazingly beautiful,” he said.
Back in 1999, Ryan had been treated to an elaborate dinner by Castro after visiting hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and talkin’ corn, soybeans and pork.
This time Ryan did not meet with new Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who was busy fashioning a new constitution for his country. But officials he met with were still talkin’ Illinois corn, soybeans and pork.
“George was treated like royalty by Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for U.S. affairs, who told us the Cuban population loved Americans and were anxious for the boycott to be lifted,” said a member of Ryan’s guest list on the trip.
“We’ve got to get that damn Cuban embargo lifted and I’d like to do something about that,” said Ryan.
“It’s outrageous it still exists between our two countries. A petition drive in Illinois to begin with maybe? Something.
“We weren’t down here doing business, but Cuba would love to do business in Illinois,” he said.
“The best thing about the trip was seeing George so happy,” said former State Sen. Bill Marovitz, who was one of 20 people Ryan invited to tag along.
Ryan and his entourage visited the bar at the legendary Hotel de Nacional to check out a framed photo of him hanging there since his departure nearly 20 years ago.
Sneed is also told White Sox/Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, a close Ryan friend also on the trip, was a huge hit in Havana handing out Sox hats on the tour.
“The response was extraordinary,” said attorney John Glennon. “Reinsdorf handed out the hats at a square frequented by baseball fans and they went berserk. Jerry wished he had brought more hats.”
“We were told the White Sox held the record for hiring more Cuban players than any other team in American baseball history,” he said. “And, of course, the team’s star is now Cuban Jose Abreu.”
Ryan, who revisited BioCubaFarma, a drug company he visited on his humanitarian mission, says he was astonished by some of the claims of the company’s medical products dealing with diabetes, mouth and tongue cancer and Hepatitis C.
“These products can’t be sold in the U.S,” he said.
So Sneed is going to cut to the chase!
• Hmmm. Did Ryan ever find out what mysterious condition/disease ended the life of Castro?
“No,” said Ryan.
• Hmmm. Did Ryan ever find out what was in the mysterious carton of pills Castro gave him in 1999, and that Castro claimed was a miracle drug?
“The Cubans chuckled when I asked them about those pills because I had them tested after our trip in 1999, but it only seemed to contain grain products,” said Ryan.
“But then the Cubans also gave me a wink wink and said, ‘Well, there were other benefits to the pills!’ ”
“I never took them. But in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have thrown them out,” he chuckled.
A Murray memo . . .
Sneed’s “Dumber than a Box of Rocks” award goes to Sneed this time for incorrectly typing actor/comedian/proud Loyola ACADEMY alum Bill Murray graduated from Loyola University! Gads! Who doesn’t know that! Murray was in town to attend his 50th year class reunion and manning the bar at his new Rosemont eatery, Caddyshack.
Sox sighting . . .
Big meal for the Big Hurt.
• Tartufo & tortellini translation: White Sox Hall of Famers Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas and Carlton Fisk spotted at Cafe Spiaggia on Monday night where they were served up yummies by Executive Chef/ “Top Chef” Season 15 winner/ uber Sox fan and South Side native Joe Flamm, at a Sox charity event benefiting the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Sneedlings . . .
Indeed: Yes, that was actor Mark Wahlberg lunching at Gibson’s eatery on Rush Street on Thursday. . . . Congrats to Karen and Mike Larson on the birth of Stella Rose. Grandparents Karen and Tony Fratto are over the moon!
. . . Actor Kelsey Grammer, in town filming Fox’s new TV series “Proven Innocent,” spotted at Gibsons on Rush Monday night. . . . Ditto for Metallica’s James Hetfield. . . . Actress Vivica A. Fox dining at Hugo’s Frog Bar last week. . . . Today’s birthdays: Jimmy Butler, 29; Robert Herjavec, 56; and Nas, 45.