HAVANA – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said as he wrapped up an official visit to Cuba that he hopes his stay will be a prelude to a state visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia in 2019, when Havana will celebrate its quincentennial.
Sanchez, the first Spanish prime minister to travel officially to the island in 32 years, hopes that “this will be the first of many state visits that are made and that above all it will be a prelude” to the royal visit.
Last year the Cuban government sent Madrid an invitation for a royal visit, and while it was accepted with the intention of doing it as soon as possible, the trip is still pending.
“Cuba occupies a privileged place in the imagination of Spaniards,” Sanchez said, then continued to thank Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel for the warm reception and hospitality he had received.
He believed that the deep affection between the Spaniards and Cubans should “be reflected in the policies” of their nations, which led to this trip that aspires to end “an anomaly that has lasted far too long.”
Sanchez’s fellow Socialist Felipe Gonzalez was, in 1986, the last Spanish prime minister to make a state visit to Cuba, because when conservative Jose Maria Aznar came to Havana in 1999, it was to attend the Ibero-American Summit.
Sanchez recalled that Cuba is living in “new times” marked by Diaz-Canel’s accession to the presidency in April after years of rule by Gen. Raul Castro.
“We want Spain to have a greater presence in Cuba,” the prime minister said, adding that Madrid is ready to “actively contribute to the process of reforms.”
About the economic side of his visit, he repeated the interest that Spanish companies have in Cuba.
He repeated that he told Diaz-Canel about his concern about the debt of 300 million euros ($340 million) that the Cuban government owes to Spanish companies operating on the island.
The Cuban president promised to address that debt.
Asked about his decision not to meet with dissidents on this trip, Sanchez recalled that on Thursday he signed a memorandum of understanding about intergovernmental discussions that has opened a dialogue that naturally includes “talks about human rights in Cuba.”
“First we had to break the ice. We’ve normalized political relations and we will continue to consolidate these relations over the coming years,” Sanchez added.