Spain’s King Felipe kicked off the first-ever state visit by a Spanish monarch to Cuba yesterday by laying flowers at the monument in Havana to Jose Marti, a symbol of the former colony’s struggle for independence.
Felipe and his wife, Queen Letizia, arrived late on Monday for a three-day stay in Cuba, underscoring the rapprochement between the two countries in spite of US attempts to isolate the Cuban government.
Felipe held talks at the Palace of the Revolution yesterday morning while his wife toured Old Havana.
The royal visit was timed so that the couple could take part in the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Cuban capital.
Havana was once one of the most important cities in the Spanish empire, providing a port for its treasure fleet.
“Spain remains our parent nation and we identify a lot with it, so their visit is very important to us,” said Havana resident Maria Pazos, whose paternal great-grandparents came from Catalonia. “It’s also a reaffirmation that we are not alone, that we have support.”
In Havana, various Spanish provinces have associations which lay on social events and dance classes, reflecting the enduring strength of cultural ties, partly due to family bonds.
The father of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro himself was a Spanish immigrant.
Economic relations, meanwhile, have picked up since Cuba started opening up its state-run economy in the 1990s.
Spain is now Cuba’s third-largest trading partner and one of its top investors.
“It’s an act of historic justice,” said Xulio Fontecha, the head of the association of Spanish companies, the only foreign business group in Cuba. “The king and queen should have come before.”
Felipe’s father King Juan Carlos had travelled to Cuba twice to attend an Ibero-American summit in 2016 and Castro’s funeral, but he never made an official state visit to the island.
Juan Fernandez Trigo, Spanish ambassador in Cuba, told Spain’s EFE news agency the visit’s content was primarily cultural.
“Our idea is not to come to do politics, because the king does not do politics in Spain,” he said.
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