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Cuba and Spain: starting over, again

Foreign minister’s meeting with Castro is just the first step

Cuban President Raúl Castro greets Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo and Public Works Minister Ana Pastor in Havana.
Cuban President Raúl Castro greets Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo and Public Works Minister Ana Pastor in Havana.HO / AFP

At last, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro has received Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo and Public Works Minister Ana Pastor. It has taken more than 18 months for the meeting to take place: the last time the minister travelled to the island, Castro refused to see him.

Given the way the Cuban regime works, the delay is not just the fault of the Spanish government. But the meeting illustrates the level of the relationship between Madrid and Havana at a time when diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States are improving and the Cuban economy is opening up to outside investment. It is in Spain’s strategic interest to be among the island’s leading interlocutors.

It is in Spain’s strategic interest to be among the island’s leading interlocutors

Despite García-Margallo’s comments following his meeting with Castro that the political relationship between the two countries “is at a high point”, the facts on the ground suggest otherwise. Since diplomatic relations with Washington resumed in December 2014, the presidents of the United States and France, along with the Italian prime minister, and others, have all visited the island, and they have done so accompanied by large delegations and carrying a battery of proposals to strengthen their presence on the island.

After Venezuela and China, Spain is Cuba’s largest trading partner. The regime’s new foreign policy, along with the implosion of Venezuela, has created an unprecedented situation in which Spain cannot allow itself to be left out of. For historic reasons, for economic reasons – Spanish hotels make up 50% of the total – Cuba is a priority for Spain. Margallo’s visit has been a success, but it is just the first step. We now need to see the prime minister and King Felipe make the trip to Havana.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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