Governor Andrew Cuomo checks out a 1956 Chevrolet in Havana on April 20. (Image: AP)


U.S.-Cuba Update: Who’s Visiting the Island?

By Rachel Glickhouse

From the governor of New York to the NBA, high-profile officials and groups are heading to Cuba in the wake of reestablished U.S. diplomatic ties.

Since U.S. President Barack Obama announced the reestablishment of relations with Cuba in December 2014, a number of high-profile officials and groups scheduled trips to the Caribbean island. This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo became the first U.S. governor to visit after the reopening of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The visits take place as it becomes easier for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. This month, an online retailer launched sales of direct flights from Miami, New York, and Tampa, with direct flights scheduled to begin from Orlando and Baltimore later this year. With comedian Conan O’Brien filming in Cuba earlier this year, sports figures and rock stars alike now have plans to hit Havana.

Find out who recently headed to the Caribbean country and who’s slated to go this year.

Recent Visits

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT): In mid-January, the Vermont senator led the first congressional delegation to Cuba after Obama’s December announcement. Three Democratic senators and two Democratic representatives also participated in the three-day trip. The legislators met with Cuban officials, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and Latin American and European ambassadors. It was Leahy’s second trip to the island within a month; he brought imprisoned U.S. aid worker Alan Gross home from Cuba in December.

Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Mark Warner (D-VA): In mid-February, the three senators participated in a four-day mission to meet with the foreign minister and trade and agriculture officials. The same month, Klobuchar introduced legislation to lift the embargo on Cuba.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): In mid-February, the U.S. House minority leader led the first U.S. House of Representatives delegation since Obama’s December announcement. Eight other Democratic representatives participated in the three-day trip. The legislators met with Cuban First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, as well as other top government officials, members of the National Assembly, and Cardinal Ortega. They also met with entrepreneurs, civil society representatives, and the students at the Latin American School of Medicine.

Missouri First Lady Georganne Nixon: Missouri’s Jay Nixon was slated to become the first U.S. governor to visit Cuba since reestablishing relations, but due to the untimely death of a state official, the first lady went in his stead. The March 1 to 4 trade mission included agribusiness representatives and 95 current and former officials, including two former national agriculture secretaries. Nixon met with numerous officials, including the ministers of tourism, trade, and foreign affairs.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: On April 20, Cuomo became the first sitting U.S. governor to visit the island since the two countries reestablished diplomatic ties. The governor brought three state legislators, as well as representatives from various industries, ranging from agriculture to financial services to higher education. The trade mission included meetings with government officials, New York students studying in Havana, and Cardinal Ortega, who played a key role in the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic negotiations. During the mission, a New York cancer institute and a software firm inked deals.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro met with Cuomo’s father, the late Governor Mario Cuomo, in New York in the 1980s.

Upcoming Visits

National Basketball Association: In late April, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) will host their first joint basketball development camp in Havana. The NBA will partner with the Cuban Sports Ministry and Cuban Basketball Federation on the four-day event, and will become the first U.S. professional sports league to visit the island since reestablishing U.S.-Cuba relations.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe: In March, McAuliffe said he will travel to Cuba, likely in late spring. The announcement came while Cuban Interests Section Chief José R. Cabañas visited the state, which is one of Cuba’s largest trading partners. Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore has visited the island nine times since 2007, and McAuliffe went to Cuba on a civilian trade mission in 2010.

New York Cosmos: This summer, the North American Soccer League team will become the first U.S. professional sports team to play in Cuba in 16 years, and the first to compete on the island since the restoration of diplomatic ties. The Cosmos will play the Cuban national team on June 2.

Pope Francis: The head of the Catholic Church will travel to Cuba in September. On April 22, a Vatican official said the pope will visit the island as part of his trip to three U.S. cities in the fall. The pope played a key role in the talks between Cuba and the United States to broker reestablishing ties.