14ymedio, Havana, November 12, 2019 — A walk around Old Havana, an official photo with the face of Ernesto “Che” Guevara at their backs, and the signing of an agreement for 57 million euros in cooperation were part of the intense agenda of the king and queen of Spain during the first day of their state visit to Cuba.
After their arrival to the island on Monday night, on Tuesday Felipe VI and Letizia started the first part of a trip that has, since its announcement, been marked by controversy and, during the first hours, after the king and queen landed in Havana, received only a discreet mention in the official media.
The welcome ceremony for the king and queen started off this Tuesday morning with a floral offering in front of the José Martí memorial at the Plaza of the Revolution and with a photo of the two of them in front of the murals of the faces of Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an image similar to that taken on visits to the island by Barack Obama and François Hollande, among others.
After the official act, with the anthem and a walk from the headquarters of the Council of State, Miguel Díaz-Canel and Felipe VI held a meeting that lasted around half an hour and during which “everything was discussed,” as the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell told the press.
Dissident groups and various international organizations have asked the monarch to tackle the human rights situation and to intercede for the release of the opposition figure José Daniel Ferrer, arrested in October. A call that has come via open letters and statements to the press, given that Felipe VI will not meet with opposition figures during this visit.
The day also served for the two nations to sign a new cooperation agreement for the next four years, worth some 57.5 million euros in projects in different fields.
However, the historic quarter of Havana was the scene that has raised more comments and allowed the king and queen to get to know part of a city that on November 16 will mark 500 years since its founding. In an area especially tidied up for the occasion, Queen Letizia Ortiz walked with Lis Cuesta, wife of President Miguel Díaz-Canel.
The royal stroll provoked an unusual hustle and bustle of State Security officials and also of uniformed police who cleared part of the area. In advance, the neighboring streets had been asphalted, new plants had been placed in the planters, and in several municipalities street dogs had been rounded up and killed.
At the most important plazas in Old Havana the movement of tourists and passers-by was paused this Tuesday a little before noon when Queen Letizia and Lis Cuesta walked to the Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos Workshop School, founded in 1992 with support from the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation in collaboration with the Office of the City Historian, Eusebio Leal.
Upon leaving the school, the entire press was waiting for them in front of the fountain of Plaza Vieja that until a few days ago was surrounded by a tall fence that prevented residents from taking a dip. In a neighborhood battered by problems with the water supply, this was the solution that authorities found to prevent the place from becoming a public shower.
“We’ve been asking them to take down the bars for a while and the king and queen had to come,” a resident of the area told 14ymedio while Letizia was walking a few blocks and curious onlookers greeted her, took photos with their cellphones, and some applauded during the tour.
Dressed in light clothing, Felipe VI in a guayabera and Letizia in a sleeveless dress, the king and queen walked hand in hand through the streets wearing sunglasses. Part of the same route that King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía took two decades ago when they were in Cuba for the Ibero-American summit of 1999.
“Today the teacher didn’t come to class, so a group from the department went out to take a walk and we met the queen,” a medical student who was walking in the area with a group of friends told this newspaper. A situation that Moisés, a peanut vendor who stayed far from the retinue, described with irony: “This will be a royal visit but not through the real Havana.”
Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera
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