Charles formally welcomed to Cuba with honour guard in Havana
The Prince of Wales has been formally welcomed to Cuba by its president as the royal visit was hailed as a boost to Britain’s post-Brexit ambitions.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel and his wife Lis Cuesta greeted Charles and Camilla on Monday evening at the end of their first full day in the communist country.
In a ceremony at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, the prince inspected a guard of honour before introducing Mr Diaz-Canel to his entourage of aides – including his wife.
The duchess and the president had met earlier in the palace where they shook hands and chatted before the formal ceremony began, followed by talks between the Cuban leader and the heir to the throne and dinner.
Earlier that day Carlos Acosta, who is artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, said that as the Communist country of his birth continued to open up culturally and economically, it was time for the UK to also build bridges as it left the EU.
And Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the visit as “a great example of bold & pragmatic UK diplomacy” in a tweet.
Acosta met the prince and his wife after they began their historic trip to Cuba by touring the old quarter of Havana, where they were mobbed by press and the public in chaotic scenes.
Charles played the tourist when they stopped to listen to a traditional band and dropped a coin in their collection hat, while Camilla’s visit to the capital was sealed with a kiss – a peck on the hand from a street performer.
The ballet star welcomed Charles and Camilla to his dance company, which is helping disadvantaged young people from across the region fulfil their potential.
Speaking about the visit – a first by members of the royal family – the dancer said: “I think it’s a big, big deal, especially with all the Brexit, the UK is looking for emerging markets and different partnerships and to sort of build bridges with other nations, and Cuba is doing the same, which is really great.”
Acosta was principal guest dancer for seventeen years with the Royal Ballet and performed many times in front of the prince.
He added: “From the Cuban perspective it is a time for building bridges, to reach out to the world, and I think also for the UK they are doing the same with this inevitable Brexit going forward, so I think it’s just the perfect fit.”
Charles’s visit offers an opportunity for the UK and Cuban governments to forge closer ties in the wake of the soft diplomacy employed by members of the royal family, who use it to make friends and build bridges during foreign tours.
Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: “While Charles and Camilla aren’t formal representatives of the Government, they obviously have influence and if they can use their visit to Havana as an opportunity to raise human rights issues that would be most welcome.”
Antony Stokes, Britain’s ambassador to Cuba, said the recent widening of internet availability by the Cuban government allowed the views of ordinary people to be heard.
He added: “That gives us an opportunity to talk about freedom of expression. By engaging at a high level, we can have an interchange about how we see the advantages of freedom of expression, and what the government might do here to improve its human rights record.”
During Tuesday at a Havana recording studio, the prince and his wife will meet members of the Buena Vista Social Club.
The group became worldwide celebrities when their 1997 album became a surprise global hit and Grammy award winner.
The couple will also meet Havana owners of the famous vintage cars still running in the capital, although these will be British not American classics.