The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall landed in Havana yesterday on a Royal Air Force plane for a visit which is seen to highlight the growing bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom.
The historical visit by Prince Charles and his wife is the first time that members of the British Royal family have come to Cuba. The trip is a part of a larger journey throughout the Caribbean. It occurs at a time when the United States, one of Britain’s major allies, seeks to isolate and further damage the Island nation’s economy.
Shortly after arrival, the Royal couple laid a wreath of flowers at the memorial at the Plaza de la Revolution in honor of independence hero Jose Marti.
On the Royal agenda, Prince Charles is scheduled to dine with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, tour the City’s restored historic district and sites, visit an organic farm, green energy projects, and the leading biomedical research center. They will also have the pleasure of viewing a showcase of antique British cars. Also on the Havana agenda is a meeting with entrepreneurs and a cultural gala.
The Royal Visit comes approximately three years after the visit of former President Barack Obama when he began to make advancements in what is seen as more than half a century of failed U.S. policy against Cuba. Obama’s visit was hailed as the start of a new chapter in US-Cuba relations.
However, since Donald Trump became president, the U.S. has reversed most of Obama’s positive changes and tightened its crippling trade embargo against the Island.
American hostility, driven mostly by a small group of people in Miami, has grown over the Royal Visit.
USA Today and CNN reported that former Florida governor and now U.S. Senator Rick Scott, confused by the Royal Visit, went as far as to write a letter of protest to the British Prime Minister Theresa May, “perplexed by the timing.”
Sir Alan Duncan, the British minister of state for Europe and the Americas, responded to Scott last month that, “like a number of other countries, we believe that the best way to promote human rights and encourage a Cuba that fully respects fundamental freedoms is through practical diplomacy, such as with this visit.”
Year after year, there is international opposition to the American embargo, seen at the United Nations’ unanimous vote to end it. Each year, 191 countries – except for the U.S. and Israel – vote against the embargo.
William LeoGrande, a professor at the American University, emphasized the fact that there will be a diplomatic costs coming from some of its chief allies to the U.S. hostility against Cuba .
LeoGrande was quoted as saying that such visits “lend legitimacy to the Cuban government and represent an implicit warning to the United States that hostile actions against Cuba may incur a diplomatic cost with important allies.”
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed the strategic value of the visit as a chance to highlight the growing relationship and cultural links:
“This is part of our longstanding approach towards Cuba of engagement and frank dialogue over the issues that divide us like human rights, but also the engagement towards progress on the matters that bridge us together.”
World-renowned former Royal Ballet star Carlos Acosta, described the visit as “great” and said he hoped it would further strengthen relations.
“I was formed here and for many years I was in the U.K. and built my career, so these two nations are very important to me,” said Acosta, who will return to the U.K. in 2020 to take on the role of Director at the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
The U.K. Ambassador, his Excellency, Dr. Antony Stokes, described the visit as “constructive diplomacy,” in his Twitter account. British officials are encouraging “constructive commitment to Cuba’s development from within the government and from civil society. Alternative voices judge the visit as practical diplomacy in action.”
British trade with Cuba stood at $100 million last year. Subsidiaries of British corporations such as Imperial Brands Plc, British-American Tobacco Plc and Unilever already operate in Cuba.
Investment opportunities in Cuba continue to open up especially in its expanding tourism sector. Each year, some 200,000 British tourists visit Cuba.
Highlighting the UK-Cuba relationship, President Diaz-Canel will receive Prince Charles and the Duchess at the Presidential Palace of the Revolution on Monday evening. It is the second time in less than a year that Diaz Canel has met with the Prince. The two met in London while the Cuban President was on an official visit to Europe.