British Royals Visit Cuba Despite Hostile American Policies Toward the Island
On March 24, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla became the first members of the British royal family to visit Cuba since revolutionary Fidel Castro established the communist state on the island in 1959.
The three-day trip by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall comes at a time when the United States, under President Trump’s lead, has reverted to imposing a trade embargo and travel restrictions on Cuba in hopes of pressuring the state to democratize. Trump’s actions reversed the efforts President Obama initiated during his term to normalize relations between the two countries.
Tensions between the United States and Cuba have since increased following the heightened political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, a socialist ally of Cuba. The United States and its allies are especially weary after Cuban military and intelligence advisers served President Nicolás Maduro during his ambiguous regime.
The royals’ trip sends the message, though, that the United Kingdom is open to the possibility of restoring friendly relations with Cuba, despite the continued efforts of the United States — a British ally — to maintain hostility.
Although Prince Charles and Camilla spent time on the island, it is the British government who chose to send them there.
"The royal family don't make these decisions," Andrew Lewer, a member of the British Parliament and the governing Conservative Party, told CNN. "It's the Foreign Office, so the royal family themselves shouldn't be blamed for this. Our friends in the United States, the many Cubans in Florida, will rightly be perplexed at the sight of the British royal family making a visit, going on tour, looking around the place, at a time when these despicable acts are taking place."
Although members within the Conservative Party were upset about the decision to send the royal couple to Cuba, the British government ultimately decided to add Cuba to the couple’s Caribbean tour of current and former British territories with the goal of normalizing economic, cultural, and political ties between the two countries, especially following the Brexit crisis.
“The tour is enabling conversations to take place that wouldn't have happened otherwise,” a source told the Daily Mail. “This give us the opportunity to develop our relationship with Cuba. It is then up to the British government to connect and do business.”
The trip commenced with a visit to the monument of José Martí, a leader of the Cuban independence movement against Spain in the nineteenth century, where the royal couple paid their respects and visited a museum dedicated to the revolutionary.
The rest of the couple’s time in Cuba was spent meeting with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, as well as visits to "explore key themes, such as the arts, youth entrepreneurship, heritage restoration, and sustainable agriculture," according to the Prince of Wales's website.
Díaz-Canel, who recently described Trump’s rhetoric as “warlike and dirty,” met the royal couple last November at the Clarence House and expressed that their visit to the island was crucial to establishing a better relationship with the United Kingdom for the future.
William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, said the visit held implications for the United States’ relationship with Cuba. LeoGrande told Reuters that the royals’ trip, with its association of international diplomacy and power, could “lend legitimacy to the Cuban government and represent an implicit warning to the United States that hostile actions against Cuba may incur a diplomatic cost with important allies.”
Royal visits like these are expected to continue as the United Kingdom attempts to redefine its international presence following its decision to withdraw from the European Union.