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Spanish royals make first official visit to Cuba

The highly symbolic trip aims to show support for businesses from Spain, and does not constitute official support for the Cuban government

The monarchs are greeted by Cuba's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez.
The monarchs are greeted by Cuba's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez. AFP

For the first time since Havana was founded 500 years ago, a Spanish monarch is on a state visit to Cuba. Such a trip had been attempted several times in the past, but was always canceled at the last minute for a variety of reasons. King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia landed in Havana on Monday to seal the full normalization of historically complex relations between both countries.

Cuba was the only Latin American country that the Spanish royals had never visited officially. In 1999 the reigning monarch at the time, Juan Carlos, spent some time in Havana but only as part of a regional summit of state and government leaders.

During their two-day visit to the Cuban capital, the royals will meet with representatives of Spanish businesses on the island. The Spanish government has insisted that the visit, while highly symbolic, does not constitute official support for the government of Cuba.

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia arrive at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport on November 11.
King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia arrive at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport on November 11. AFP

The visit will take place against a complicated backdrop: the US is strengthening its embargo on Cuba, and a newly enforced provision of the Helms-Burton Act opens the door to US lawsuits against businesses that may be “trafficking” with property that was confiscated after the Cuban revolution.

This could potentially affect several Spanish companies, including the hotel chain Meliá and the airline Air Europa. In a clear show of support for Spanish interests in Cuba, the royals will stay at the the Iberostar Grand Packard, a major resort in Havana that is on Washington’s blacklist.

The Spanish government has insisted that the visit does not constitute official support for the government of Cuba

The official agenda begins on Tuesday with a meeting between Felipe VI and the Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, at the Palace of the Revolution. Both leaders are expected to sign a Framework Agreement between Cuba and Spain aimed at guiding bilateral cooperation and cultural exchanges over the coming years.

In the meantime, Queen Letizia will visit the building restoration workshop Escuela Taller de Restauración Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, which was founded with Spanish support. Later the royals are scheduled to go on a tour of Old Havana, where they will have lunch at a paladar – a private, family-run restaurant – just as Barack and Michelle Obama did in 2016.

Other activities include a dance performance at the Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso, a dinner offered by the president, and meetings with members of the Spanish community in Havana and with Cuban civil society leaders.

English version by Susana Urra.

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