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October 27, 1999

Ryan Quotes President Lincoln To Find Common Ground With Educators; Delivers School Supplies To Cuban Students

HAVANA, CUBA -- On the final day of Illinois' humanitarian mission to the Republic of Cuba, Governor George H. Ryan returned from his visit with a Cuban child in need of medical attention and encouraged the Cuban people to see the common issues facing Illinoisans and Cubans instead of the differences.

"Over these last few days, we have discovered much about the people of Cuba and you have discovered much about us. There are differences between us," Ryan said. "There are strong bonds between our two peoples that, in the future, will continue to draw us together.

We have raised our hands to say hello, and to embrace in friendship and mutual respect," he added.

"It is my hope that the people of Illinois will one day soon welcome the people of Cuba across those bridges to our cities, our farms, our schools and even our baseball stadiums."

Governor Ryan and First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan were invited to meet with Cuban President Fidel Castro, who allowed the delegation to bring two medical patients to America for medical treatment. The Ryans also presented school supplies to students at the Abraham Lincoln Primary School on Wednesday morning. Governor Ryan was also the guest speaker at the University of Havana, where Castro met him for a final visit.

"On behalf of the children of Illinois, we present these gifts to the children of Cuba and encourage them to ask questions and seek answers to a proper education, children can grow up to be any thing they want to be," Mrs. Ryan said. "I commend the Cuban government for making education an important part of each child's life."

During his speech, Ryan invoked the words of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to both the university and primary school students touting his humanitarian efforts to unite and heal a nation. "Throughout his life, Lincoln's past and his upbringing remained a major part of his personality and the essence of his image, even as he led the nation. In the summer of 1858, Lincoln said 'Nobody has ever expected me to be President.' But because his education was important to him, he achieved the highest office that an American can attain," Ryan said.

The Governor and First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan, who were accompanied to the island by an official delegation of more than 40 people and nearly $2 million worth of humanitarian supplies, are the first U.S. governor and spouse to visit Cuba in more than 40 years.

While the Governor believes the trip was a success in achieving the humanitarian goals of the delegation, Ryan noted that the lessons learned on the trip will be shared with Illinois officials and other state governments in the United States.

"We have done much while we've been here. We've delivered, on behalf of the people of Illinois, more than $2 million worth of goods and supplies that have a tough time reaching your shores - school supplies, medicines, food and clothing," Ryan said.

"We've laid the groundwork for physicians and other medical specialists to visit Cuba. They will help teach new methods to combat diabetes and other ailments," he added. "But they will also learn from your own excellent medical research facilities."


(A full text of the remarks to the University of Havana and a complete itinerary of today's activities are attached.)


Good morning.

It is a great honor and a pleasure for me to be here today at the University of Havana.

From the people of the State of Illinois, the home of Abraham Lincoln, I bring you greetings.

The past few days here in Cuba have been memorable for all of us.

The hospitality and the kindness of the Cuban people have not only made our visit very enjoyable, but productive - and historic.

We came to Cuba from Illinois to build bridges for the future.

We leave for home tomorrow with the knowledge that those bridges are firmly in place - grounded in a foundation of friendship and cooperation.

It is my hope that in the very near future, others from the United States will follow Illinois over those bridges to Cuba.

And it is also my hope that the people of Illinois will one day soon welcome the people of Cuba across those bridges to our cities, our farms, our schools and even our baseball stadiums.

Over these last few days, we have discovered much about the people of Cuba and you have discovered much about us.

There are differences between us.

Our languages are different.

Our government philosophies are different.

And our cultures and economies are different.

And yet, while all of these separates us - that does not mean that Cuba and Illinois are incompatible.

There are strong bonds between our two peoples that, in the future, will continue to draw us together.

We share a desire to prepare our children in the classroom for their futures.

We share a commitment to the land and all that it provides for us.

We share a love of the arts, sport, history and culture.

And, most of all, we share a strong desire to improve the human condition.

With bonds like these, I view any differences we have merely as hills to climb not mountains to conquer.

That is the way, I believe, Lincoln would have wanted it.

In his first inaugural address as president, faced with a war that was tearing our country apart, Lincoln admonished those who would not silence their anger.

"We are not enemies," he said, "but friends.

"We must not be enemies.

"Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."

That is how I view our relationship with Cuba.

This visit has been a good first step forward for all of us - for the people of Illinois and for the people of Cuba.

In the past, these steps would, perhaps, have been backward -- away from each other.

Instead, over the last few days we have taken a step into the future - toward each other.

We have not raised our hands to waive in frustration, anger or ignorance.

We have raised our hands to say, "hello," and to embrace in friendship and mutual respect.

We have done much while we've been here.

We absorbed and were awed by the beauty of your culture and history.

We've delivered, on behalf of the people of Illinois, truck loads of goods and supplies that have a tough time reaching your shores - school supplies, medicines, food and clothing.

We've laid the groundwork for physicians and other medical specialists to visit Cuba.

They will help teach new methods to combat diabetes and other ailments.

But they will also learn from your own excellent medical research facilities.

We've taken the first steps toward arranging cultural, educational and agricultural exchanges to help teachers, farmers, artists, chemists and engineers trade information and methods that will help improve the quality of life for the people of Illinois and Cuba.

We've seen the groundbreaking work your scientists are doing with biotechnology and other forms of agricultural research.

And we've talked about using our mutual love of baseball as a way to bring us further together.

During our stay, the members of the Illinois delegation have been honored and humbled by one special bond between us that is very evident everywhere in Cuba.

That bond is the reverence and respect that Cubans hold for Illinois' greatest son, Abraham Lincoln.

Because our home was his home - and will always be his home - the teachings and lessons of Lincoln's life serve as guideposts for all of us from Illinois.

And because he was seen throughout the world as a champion of liberty, a defender of the people and as an emancipator, he still guides people throughout the world.

"Abraham Lincoln," wrote the American author Ralph Waldo Emerson, "was at home and welcome with the humblest - and had a spirit and a practical vein in times of terror that commanded the admiration of the wisest.

"His heart was as great as the world, but there was no room in it to hold the memory of a wrong."

There is no better description of Lincoln's life and character.

In my travels on behalf of the people of Illinois, whether my destination has been Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas, when people hear that I am from Illinois, they mention Lincoln.

I can't tell you how proud I am of that association.

Lincoln's spirit has guided us on our mission here to Havana.

In 1864, Lincoln spoke of the bonds that tie humanity together.

"The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation," he said, "should be one uniting all working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds."

Our goal has been to bring us together, to establish ties to help us learn from you; and you from us.

Our goal has been to unite the hard-working people of Cuba and the hard-working people of Illinois.

All of us have been impressed with Cuba.

This island has often been called the "Pearl of the Caribbean."

That's very appropriate.

But for any pearl to reach its full value, it must be pried from its shell and held up to the world.

So it is with Cuba.

Establishing ties between Cuba and Illinois that allow for cultural, economic, athletic and humanitarian exchanges will help pry Cuba from its shell.

As do many others in the United States, I believe that the current economic embargo against Cuba has not advanced cooperation or understanding between our two peoples.

If anything, it has pushed us apart.

Yet, although I disagree with this policy, it is not up to me alone to change this policy.

I believe that it's important that this debate over U.S. relations with Cuba continue.

It's important for two reasons.

It's important because these discussions may one day lead to fundamental changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

And it's important that these discussions continue in the United States because a debate like this keeps the principles of freedom and democracy alive and strong - not just in my country, but in any country that respects individual liberties.

"Let the people know the truth," Lincoln said, "and the country is safe."

Lincoln, in his time as president, knew that it would be easy to stifle dissent.

It would have been easy, during a time of war, to silence those who disagreed with him.

Such a strategy would have made it easier to keep the United States together.

But Lincoln also knew that such a policy would destroy the union from within.

He did not silence those who disagreed with him.

Instead, Abraham Lincoln stood strong and defended his positions and beliefs.

He stood on the strength of his convictions and, as many have said, "shook a brotherly hand" with those who disagreed with him.

Lincoln understood that any government, however strong in battle, was truly powerless if the people lacked fundamental freedoms and liberties.

"No man," Lincoln said, "is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent."

It is this fundamental belief that helped Lincoln win a second term as president of the United States, even though the election was held in the middle of a Civil War that split the country in half and divided states, friends and families.

Lincoln was not afraid of disagreement or opposition.

He never feared opponents because he was always confident in his own convictions and his own beliefs.

And if he did not win the day on the strength of his beliefs, he would not rush to imprint his wishes on others.

He never feared the voice of the people.

Lincoln said, "I go for sharing the privileges of the government with those who assist in bearing its burdens."

So it is true to today throughout all the Americas.

Governments cannot deny their people the opportunity to seek change and self-expression.

That is the fundamental reason why, in 1862, Lincoln signed the famous Emancipation Proclamation, ensuring forever that no person in our country would ever be the property of another.

He considered that proclamation "the central act of my administration and the great event of the nineteenth century."

To the world, the Emancipation Proclamation is one of the great events of the last 1,000 years.

In 1848, long before the Civil War started, Lincoln told the U.S. House of Representatives that the most sacred right of any nation of people is the right to speak against their government without a fear of retribution.

He said this as a warning to the leaders of our country, to let them know that they must always govern with the consent of the people; or the people will withdraw that consent.

It is a message that all governments should listen to, and respect.

"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves," Lincoln said.

And at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863, Lincoln commemorated the defining battle of the Civil War and the soldiers who died there with a stirring defense of liberty.

His address that day was a rallying cry - not for the United States - but for the people of the United States.

Lincoln said that day the soldiers who died at Gettysburg for the cause of freedom had shown their brothers and sisters - and the world - how important, how special and how strong is the cause of liberty -- "of the people, by the people and for the people."

You, the students of the University of Havana, represent the best and the brightest of your country's future.

You are the pilots of the next millenium.

Your hands, your minds and your deeds will shape the 21st Century for Cuba.

The men and women of your country are depending on you to do your best.

You are very much like the students of the great universities in Illinois.

There are many paths you can choose, many goals to pursue.

It is up to you to learn what you can and to work hard to make a difference.

Lincoln once said, "The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time."

How true.

Use the gift of your education to make a difference in Cuba and the world.

Choose a path that leads to further contact with the people of Illinois.

Choose a path that opens closed doors.

Choose, as we have, the path that leads to understanding, tolerance and equality.

The people of Illinois have come to Cuba in the spirit of peace and friendship.

That is the path that Abraham Lincoln chose throughout his entire life.

And, as Lincoln once said, "I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms, until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal."

Thank you.


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