A visit to Cuba by former Spanish Socialist prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has been described as an act of “extreme disloyalty” by the current conservative Popular Party (PP) government.
“The visit is not just an example of disloyalty, but it is also very inopportune,” said Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo, noting that Spain and the rest of the European Union are in negotiations with Cuban authorities “as long as the Cuban regime takes steps to improve basic human rights and open up to democracy.”
The minister said he only found out about the former leader’s visit to the Caribbean island because the Spanish embassy in Havana had been informed of the journey in order to process the bodyguards’ travel permits.
Zapatero, who governed Spain from 2004 to 2011, met island leader Raúl Castro, but Margallo said he did not know what the two had discussed.
Miguel Ángel Moratinos, a former foreign minister under Zapatero who traveled with the ex-PM, expressed surprise at the Spanish government’s reaction. Speaking to EL PAÍS from Havana, he said the Spanish embassy there was “aware of everything.”
According to Moratinos, the ambassador was informed about Zapatero’s plans to meet Raúl Castro even though the meeting was not on his official program “because you never know whether this type of appointment is going to take place until the last minute.”
The get-together with Castro on Wednesday lasted three-and-a-half hours, after which Zapatero and Moratinos went off to dinner. That is why they had still not informed the Spanish government about the topics that were discussed with Castro by Thursday morning, Moratinos explained.
Moratinos said that while the visit was not official, it was not private either, as Zapatero came as the honorary chairman of the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP), an initiative launched by his own government in 2010.
There is nothing strange nor secret about the visit”
Miguel Ángel Moratinos, former foreign minister
Besides this issue, Zapatero and Castro addressed bilateral relations and Cuba’s situation following the thaw between Havana and Washington, said Moratinos without offering many details.
“There is nothing strange nor secret about the visit,” he added.
Moratinos did admit that “perhaps it would have been logical” to inform the current minister about the plans, but justified the omission by citing the lack of fluidity in their relations.
After the trip to Havana, Zapatero and Moratinos are planning to travel to Bolivia.
While he was Spain’s PM, Zapatero never traveled to Cuba, although his foreign minister paid several visits.
This is not the first time that Zapatero and Moratinos have made a controversial visit abroad. In July 2014, they and former defense minister José Bono were in Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony with one of the worst human rights records in the world, where they met with President Teodoro Obiang.