Prince Charles ‘will be­come the first royal to visit Cuba’

Scottish Daily Mail - - Countdown To Brexit D-day - By Rebecca English Royal Cor­re­spon­dent

‘Abil­ity to open doors’

PRINCE Charles is set to be­come the first mem­ber of the Royal Fam­ily to visit Cuba on a his­toric of­fi­cial tour next year.

The ground-break­ing visit to the Com­mu­nist coun­try is still in the early stages of plan­ning and has not been con­firmed yet.

But govern­ment of­fi­cials from both coun­tries are ‘ex­tremely hope­ful’ it will hap­pen in the next few months, pos­si­bly as early as the spring, the Mail can re­veal.

It is un­der­stood that Charles met with the new Cuban pres­i­dent, Miguel Diaz-Canel, at Clarence House last month, which is be­ing viewed by diplo­mats as an ex­tremely pos­i­tive sign.

The trip, which will be part of a largescale Caribbean tour, would have been un­think­able just a few years ago, as the coun­try was emerg­ing from six decades of lead­er­ship un­der the dic­ta­tor Fidel Cas­tro and his fam­ily.

In 2016 Barack Obama be­came the first US pres­i­dent to visit in 88 years, but no British Prime Min­is­ter has ever set foot on Cuban soil.

With the Queen no longer un­der­tak­ing for­eign travel, the prince’s of­fi­cial trips are akin to a state visit and will be viewed as a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward in Bri­tain’s re­la­tion­ships with the once Soviet-backed Cuba, par­tic­u­larly in a post-Brexit world.

Royal tours are viewed by the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice as a sig­nif­i­cant weapon in their diplomatic ar­moury, a de­ploy­ment of­ten re­ferred to by White­hall as ‘soft power’.

Many se­nior roy­als, es­pe­cially Charles, are seen to have the abil­ity to open doors in parts of the world where politi­cians sim­ply can­not, paving the way for high-level ne­go­ti­a­tions by min­is­ters and diplo­mats.

Charles, 70, who will be ac­com­pa­nied by his wife, the Duchess of Corn­wall, 71, will have to tread care­fully, how­ever, as the un­prece­dented visit is likely to be viewed with cau­tion in the US.

In 2014, Pres­i­dent Obama an­nounced plans to nor­malise diplomatic re­la­tions with the coun­try af­ter talks with the then pres­i­dent, Raul Cas­tro, Fidel’s younger brother. Re­la­tions had been sev­ered for more than 50 years, since the failed Bay of Pigs in­va­sion and Soviet mis­sile cri­sis.

He also lifted trade sanc­tions and made it eas­ier for Amer­i­cans to travel and do busi­ness there in the hope of im­prov­ing liv­ing con­di­tions and slowly gain­ing in­flu­ence over the fu­ture of the Com­mu­nist na­tion.

But in June last year, Pres­i­dent Trump over­turned as­pects of his pre­de­ces­sor’s poli­cies, ar­gu­ing le­niency had achieved noth­ing. He cited a mys­te­ri­ous spate of ill­nesses among US diplo­mats in Ha­vana and or­dered most em­ploy­ees of his em­bassy to leave.

He also ex­pelled Cuban diplo­mats from Wash­ing­ton and re­voked travel and busi­ness free­doms.

His de­ci­sions have al­lowed, many of­fi­cials be­lieve, the likes of China and Rus­sia to gain a foothold on the is­land just 90 miles off the US coast. The new Cuban pres­i­dent vis­ited Com­mu­nist-run Rus­sia, China, North Korea, Viet­nam and Laos last month.

But UK diplo­mats hope a visit by a se­nior royal will help to ex­tend Bri­tain’s global reach in the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly once Bri­tain has left the EU. The Govern­ment will be keen to en­cour­age a more mod­ern, open and free Cuba, and push for greater pro­tec­tion for cit­i­zens in a coun­try which has a poor hu­man rights record, es­pe­cially when it comes to ar­bi­trary im­pris­on­ment, un­fair tri­als, free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the use of dig­i­tal me­dia.

Charles is likely to high­light lo­cal en­trepreneur­ship as well as point to Bri­tain as a po­ten­tial trade and in­vest­ment part­ner. The Cuban govern­ment is ac­tively seek­ing in­ward for­eign in­vest­ment as it tries to grow its econ­omy, which is strug­gling with heavy state con­trols and lower global com­mod­ity prices.

It is an­tic­i­pated that cli­mate change and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues will also fea­ture heav­ily on any fu­ture royal itin­er­ary in a re­gion blighted by in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable weather pat­terns, such as hur­ri­canes, and by plas­tics.

The UK re­cently told the United Na­tions it recog­nises Cuba’s pos­i­tive steps in com­bat­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing but re­mains con­cerned about re­stric­tions to the free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the treat­ment of pris­on­ers, is­sues which Charles is ex­pected to raise in­di­rectly.

Clarence House last night de­clined to com­ment on the prospect of a royal visit.

Late dic­ta­tor: Fidel Cas­tro Our man in Ha­vana? Prince Charles is ex­pected to dis­cuss key is­sues such as cli­mate change and trade

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