Illinois Senator Dick Durbin spoke at Baker & McKenzie’s Chicago office Monday morning on the future of US-Cuba relations, discussing the political, economic and human rights changes that may result from the easing of trade and travel restrictions between the two countries.

“Change is coming,” said the senator. “We are months, at most years, away from dramatic changes.”

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The Senator said the new policy announced by President Obama is historic and long overdue, but there remains a deep ideological divide between the US and Cuba.

Senator Durbin has supported the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015, which would end restrictions in laws enacted in 1996 and 2000 on travel by American citizens and legal residents to Cuba, as well as the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba.

In the spring, Senator Durbin also supported the Cuba Digital and Telecommunications Advancement Act – or Cuba DATA Act – that would enable U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies to provide their services and devices in Cuba.

Some other highlights from the Senator’s remarks:

  • By restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, the US is “in a better position to press Cuba on human rights.”
  • Cuba has one of the lowest internet connectivity rates in the world — only 5 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet, and far less have home Internet access.
  • The President has taken historic steps to ease trade and travel restrictions between the two countries, but a complete end to the trade embargo will require the cooperation of Congress as well.
  • For those looking to do business in Cuba, the question they should ask is how will their investment help the people and economy of Cuba, not only how doing so will help their own business.
  • There have been new opportunities for arts and cultural exchanges between Cuba and the US, which can eventually lead to new business opportunities as well.