Spain’s King Felipe and PM Rajoy to visit Cuba “as soon as possible”

King Felipe VI,Mariano Rajoy,Spain,Cuba,Raúl Castro,

HAVANA, April 18th Spain’s King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have accepted an official invitation to make an official visit to Cuba, which the Foreign Ministry says will take place “as soon as possible,” probably at the end of this year, ahead of the retirement of the Caribbean island’s leader, Raúl Castro, in February 2018.

Felipe’s father and predecessor, Juan Carlos, led a Spanish delegation that attended the funeral of Fidel Castro in November 2016. During Juan Carlos’s 39 years in power, between 1975 and 2014, he only visited Havana once: in 1999, when Cuba hosted the IX Ibero-American Summit. José María Aznar, who was prime minister with Spain’s conservative Popular Party between 1996 and 2004, has said publicly that he refused to sanction further visits by Juan Carlos to Cuba given the politician’s ideological differences with Havana.

King Felipe and Rajoy intend to visit Cuba “as soon as possible,” according to official sources. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez gave King Felipe the invitation at a meeting in the Zarzuela official royal residence in Madrid on Monday during a private visit to the Spanish capital. He later met with Rajoy.

The invitation comes after a May 2016 visit by the then-Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo.

King Felipe and Queen Leticia are making a state visit to the United Kingdom between June 6 and June 8, which means the visit to Cuba could take place after summer, toward the end of the year.

During their conversation, Rodríguez and King Felipe discussed the worsening situation in Venezuela where protesters have taken to the streets after the opposition-controlled national congress was briefly stripped off its powers. Speaking at a press conference afterward, Rodríguez said Cuba would continue supporting the government of President Nicolás Maduro to find the best “solutions and decisions.” He also referred to the 2002 coup that briefly toppled Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said after meeting with Rodríguez that the invitation “symbolizes the will of Cuba to increase links with Spain.” He added that following the end of the year-long political stalemate in Spain in October produced by two inconclusive elections, Prime Minister Rajoy intended to “strengthen and intensify” political, social, economic, trade, cultural, family and other ties between the two countries.

In December, Spain raised the issue of renewing the EU’s agreement with Cuba, leaving behind the approach of the Aznar government and its focus on human-rights issues. Rodríguez described talks between Madrid and Havana as “multi-faceted”, “promising,” “cordial,” “productive,” “useful,” and “beneficial.”

Spain is Cuba’s third-major trading partner and the eighth-most-important source of tourists. Rodríguez praised Spain and the EU’s position regarding the ongoing US embargo.

Dastis pointed out that Spanish governments over the years have not supported the trade embargo and hoped that the Trump administration would continue the thaw begun by Barack Obama. On the subject of political prisoners and human rights in Cuba, Dastis, who has offered to travel to Cuba ahead of the visit, said both governments would address all issues “with respect and trust, and pragmatically.”