The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have made history by becoming the first members of the royal family to officially visit Cuba.
Charles and Camilla’s groundbreaking trip is likely to usher in a new chapter in the relationship between the UK and the Communist state once ruled by Fidel Castro.
After the couple stepped on to Cuban soil from the UK ministerial jet RAF Voyager, there were brief handshakes from Cuban officials before they were whisked away to a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial for Cuba’s national hero, the essayist and poet Jose Marti.
The prince and duchess will be joined by Commonwealth minister Lord Ahmad, who is flying to the country later this week to represent the UK Government.
His presence is an indication of how important Downing Street views the four-day Cuban visit and its potential to develop new avenues with a country that has already begun the process of opening up economically and socially.
The Castro brothers, first Fidel and then Raul, ruled the country for almost 60 years and in recent years private enterprise has been encouraged – although it has been scaled back amid fears the reforms were fuelling inequality.
Access to the internet was widened in the run-up to Christmas when Cubans were offered a 3G mobile network – previously they had to rely on WiFi hotspots and internet cafes.
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 monarchy, who use it to make friends and build bridges during foreign tours.
A spokesman for the couple said: “Their Royal Highnesses are looking forward to experiencing the culture and meeting the people of Cuba.”
There was another milestone as it is believed to be the first time an RAF plane has landed in Communist Cuba, which had very close ties with Russia during the Cold War.
The couple arrived from Barbados, one of five Commonwealth realms Charles and Camilla have visited.
St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines have also featured on their tour.
There are no plans for the royal couple to meet Raul Castro but they will be guests of honour at an official dinner hosted by the country’s president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.
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.
Other highlights of the Cuban trip will include the couple meeting the owners of the famous vintage cars still running in Havana, although these will be British classics.