By Edward Malnick
Telegraph Online – 24 February 2019
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are facing pressure to call off an official visit to Cuba, over concerns that the country’s communist regime is helping to prop up Venezuela’s embattled president. Tory MPs and Venezuelan politicians warned that the trip, due to take place next month, would be seen as an endorsement of the Cuban regime at a time when its forces were allegedly involved in the torture of political prisoners and the suppression of protests against Nicolás Maduro.
One backbencher has written to Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, urging him to rescind a request for the trip to take place, until Cuba withdraws any military personnel from Venezuela. Separately, a member of the Popular Will party, whose leader has been recognised by the UK as the interim president of the country, warned that the official visit – the first to Cuba by any member of the royal family – "sends absolutely the wrong message at the current time."
On February 4 Mr Hunt described the Maduro regime as illegitimate and pledged that those who violated the human rights of Venezuelan people "will be called to account." Some 11 days later Clarence House announced that the Prince and Duchess would visit Cuba as part of a tour of the Caribbean from March 17.
The Cuba leg of the trip, which follows an invitation from Miguel Diaz-Canel, the Cuban president, was included at the request of the British Government,
"to highlight the growing bilateral relationship with the UK,"
according to royal officials. But Julian Lewis, the Tory chairman of the Defence Committee, said:
"Foreign Office ministers recently denounced the Maduro regime as thieves who stole freedom from the Venezuelan people. So how can it be right to send senior Royals to suck up to the Cuban Communists on whom Maduro depends?"
In a letter to Mr Hunt, Andrew Lewer, a Tory backbencher said:
"According to the Organisation of American States, Cuba has some 15,000 military and intelligence personnel in Venezuela, whose task is to preserve the Maduro dictatorship. Cuban forces are actively involved in the torture of political prisoners in Venezuela and the violent suppression of peaceful protests. It would be quite wrong to bestow our blessing on this brutality by carrying on with this Royal Visit."
Meanwhile, Tamara Adrian, a Venezuela deputy in the National Assembly and member of the Popular Will party, said:
"Without the Cubans Maduro would already have gone. We need Britain and our other democratic friends to do their utmost to push the Cubans into leaving Venezuela immediately ... a royal visit to Cuba sends absolutely the wrong message at the current time."
Prof Carlos Luna Ramírez, chairman of the Venezuelan Council on International Relations, added:
"For members of the royal family to visit Cuba, especially now that the Cubans are re-doubling their efforts to keep Maduro in power, is quite wrong."
Matt Kilcoyne, head of communications at the Adam Smith Institute, which has been campaigning to increase understanding of the Venezuelan crisis, said:
"Now is the wrong time to be rewarding the Cuban communist regime. What Cuba and Venezuela both need is capitalism and getting Cuba to abandon Maduro, withdraw from Venezuela and give up its Venezuelan subsidies will lead to the necessary reforms in both countries."
On February 4 Mr Hunt declared that the UK recognised Juan Guaido, the leader of Popular Will, as the interim President of Venezuela, after Mr Maduro failed to call "credible" presidential elections. It is understood that the royals will be accompanied on the trip by senior representatives of the Government, who are likely to raise Cuba's role in Venezuela. A Foreign Office spokesman said:
"The Royal Visit is not an endorsement of Cuba's position on Venezuela, on which we strongly disagree, nor on any other matter. This historic visit, which celebrates the UK and Cuba's developing bilateral relationship, reflects the UK Government's policy of engagement with Cuba and opens the door to both positive collaboration and frank dialogue."