Havana: Spain’s King Felipe and Queen Letizia stand in front of an image of Ernesto Che Guevara during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Jose Marti monument on Tuesday.—Reuters
Havana: Spain’s King Felipe and Queen Letizia stand in front of an image of Ernesto Che Guevara during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Jose Marti monument on Tuesday.—Reuters

HAVANA: Spain’s King Felipe VI began an unprecedented visit to Cuba on Tuesday to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the capital Havana at a time of increased tensions between the island nation and the United States.

King Felipe is travelling alongside Queen Letizia in the first state visit by a Spanish monarch to the former colony, one of the last to gain independence from Madrid in 1898.

The capital — a magnet for millions of tourists every year — is celebrating the anniversary of its foundation on Nov 16, 1519.

Faced with the harassment of Cuba by the Trump administration, the royal couple’s journey to the island can be interpreted as a support to economic, political, cultural relations and cooperation between Cuba and Spain,” said Raynier Pellon, an expert at the center for international political research in Havana.

For Cuban researcher Arturo Lopez-Levy from the Holy Names University in the US, it’s “a clear message to the White House.” Cuba’s third largest economic partner — after China and Venezuela — with $1.39 billion in 2018, Spain has not shied away from criticising Trump’s policies.

Foreign minister Josep Borrell, who is accompanying the royal couple, blasted the Trump administration in May for an “abuse of power” after Washington gave the green light a month earlier for Cuban exiles to use US courts to sue private companies and the Cuban government over properties nationalised after the 1959 revolution.

King Felipe will meet Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel during his visit and join Havana’s official historian Eusebio Leal for a tour of its fabled cobblestone streets.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2019