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Cuomo to become first sitting U.S. governor to visit Cuba since thaw in relations

FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2014 file

FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2014 file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during his meeting with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, at the President's residence in Jerusalem. Credit: AP / Sebastian Scheiner

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Democratic legislative leaders are set to depart Monday for a 24-hour trade mission to Cuba, four months after President Barack Obama began a historic thaw in American relations with the Communist island nation.

Cuomo's entourage will include business leaders from JetBlue, MasterCard, pharmaceutical companies, and even an upstate milk plant.

"These industry leaders will serve as ambassadors for all that New York State has to offer and will help form the foundation for a strong economic relationship between New York and Cuba as legal restrictions on trade are eased in the future," Cuomo said in a statement Sunday.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Senate Independent Conference Leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) also will join the Democratic governor on the trip. The group, which does not include any Long Island lawmakers, plans to arrive in Havana midday Monday and leave midday Tuesday. Itinerary details have yet to be released.

Though he wasn't scheduled to be, Cuomo will be the first governor to visit Cuba since Obama's move to ease relations with Cuba. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had planned to go in March, but backed out of the trip after the unexpected death of the state's auditor. Instead, Nixon's wife led the delegation.

Pharmaceutical companies represented on New York's trade mission include Pfizer and Regeneron. Chobani, the Greek yogurt manufacturer headquartered in Norwich, Connecticut, and Cayuga Milk Ingredients, an Auburn-based dairy company, also will be represented.

Obama in December announced his intention to begin normalizing relations with Cuba. In January, he eased travel and trade restrictions, and last Tuesday he removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The terrorism announcement came days after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met at a regional summit in Panama. The talks marked the first formal meeting between the leaders of their countries in about a half-century.

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