HAVANA – Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo and Development Minister Ana Pastor met for more than two hours with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana, bolstering bilateral relations.
Garcia-Margallo and Pastor met with the Cuban leader on Monday, with Spain’s top diplomat describing the meeting as “excellent,” “extraordinarily friendly” and “cordial.”
The Spanish foreign minister was unable to meet with Castro during his first visit to the island in November 2014.
“I can recall few visits or meetings at this level in which there was cordiality like there was in this one. Underscoring that it is obvious that we are ministers, we have been received by a head of state and that is not what protocol requires, it’s more than anything else a special gesture toward Spain on the part of the Cuban authorities,” Garcia-Margallo said.
The Spanish ministers also met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas, Foreign Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, Construction Minister Rene Mesa and Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo.
The trip was the product of “four years of working to bring together” Cuba and Spain, whose relations “are at a sweet spot” both on the bilateral level and with the “thaw” in relations between Brussels and Havana in the wake of the recent political dialogue and cooperation agreement, Garcia-Margallo said.
Spain is Cuba’s third-largest trade partner, trailing only Venezuela and China, and the No. 1 European trade partner, with bilateral trade totaling more than 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion) in 2015, as well as a leader in business and strategic areas, such as tourism, Garcia-Margallo said.
Pastor, for her part, discussed the memorandum of understanding signed on Monday with Yzquierdo, the first agreement on transportation between the nations.
The agreement calls for cooperation in land transportation, common standards for maritime transportation, railway services management and maintenance, and the development of airport services.
Spain’s intense agenda of activities in Cuba in May will continue with visits by more officials.
On Thursday and Friday, Spanish Secretary of State for Trade Jaime Garcia-Legaz, on his third trip to Cuba in 13 months, will attend the meeting of the Bilateral Business Committee organized by the Spanish and Cuban chambers of commerce.
Also this week, the head of the Murcia regional government, Pedro Antonio Sanchez, will visit Cuba.
In late May, the head of the government in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, will visit the island, where he will attend a gathering in Havana of representatives of Galician communities from around the world.
This new phase in bilateral relations was bolstered by the signing of an agreement on May 4 in Madrid to restructure payments on 2.44 billion euros ($2.76 billion) in past-due Cuban debt.