HAVANA – Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel met on Tuesday with Spain’s visiting King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia at the start of what is the first-ever state visit by a Spanish monarch to the Caribbean island.
The visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia also coincides with the quincentennial of the founding of Havana.
Diaz-Canel welcomed the royals at the headquarters of the Council of State after they had laid a wreath at Cuban independence hero Jose Marti’s memorial in Revolution Square.
The monarchs had arrived Monday afternoon in the company of Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell.
“From their majesties, the king and queen, to Jose Marti,” read the message accompanying the wreath of red roses they laid at the memorial as Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Anayansi Rodriguez, the ambassadors of both countries and other authorities looked on.
Prior to that traditional floral offering, Felipe and Letizia posed for a photo before the statues of revolutionary commanders Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos as the two countries’ national anthems were being played.
The royals then walked to the building housing the Council of State at the other side of the square, where they met with Diaz-Canel and his wife, Lis Cuesta.
Felipe VI and Diaz-Canel on Tuesday are to preside over a signing ceremony for a framework partnership agreement laying the foundation for bilateral cooperation projects in the coming years.
While that event is taking place, Letizia and Cuesta will visit a technical school and the Church and Convent of St. Francis of Asisi in Old Havana.
The two couples will then meet later for a dinner that Diaz-Canel will offer the royals on Tuesday night at the headquarters of the Council of State.
Another dinner will be held Wednesday in the Spanish royals’ honor at the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, where the king will deliver the main speech of his three-day visit.
Earlier, he will address members of the Spanish business community on the island.
Felipe and Letizia arrived Monday afternoon at Havana’s international airport, where they were welcomed by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
“Cuba welcomes you with warm hospitality,” Rodriguez wrote on Twitter.
The start of the royals’ visit coincided with a move Tuesday by caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the leader of the left-wing Unidas Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, to sign a preliminary agreement on a coalition government following Sunday’s general election.
The monarchs’ trip also coincides with the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, whose main commemorative event will take place on Saturday with the presence of Venezuela’s leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro and other leaders. Felipe and Letizia, however, will have already returned home.
The royal visit is the next step in the “process of normalizing relations” that crystallized in November 2018, when Sanchez made the first official visit to Cuba by a Spanish prime minister in 32 years, Borrell said last month in announcing the visit.
The presence of Felipe and Letizia in Cuba is a powerful sign of support for more than 300 Spanish companies that are doing business on the island and are facing challenges amid moves by the United States to tighten its economic embargo against the Communist-ruled island.
Borrell acknowledged on Oct. 16 that some of those Spanish firms “are going to be affected negatively by the extraterritorial application of US laws,” specifically legislation opening the US courts to lawsuits from people who had businesses and properties expropriated following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
No Spanish king had previously made a state visit to Cuba, a former Spanish colony.
Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia traveled to the island in November 1999 to take part in the ninth Ibero-American Summit in Havana, although that occasion did not have the character of a state visit.
After his abdication in June 2014, Felipe VI’s father returned to the island as king emeritus in November 2016 to attend Fidel Castro’s funeral.