Britain's Prince Charles unveils Shakespeare statue in Havana


Havana (AFP)

Britain's Prince Charles unveiled a statue of William Shakespeare in Havana when he took to the streets of old city Monday as part of the first visit by the British royal family to communist-run Cuba.

Surrounded by a curious throng of Cubans and foreign tourists, Charles and his wife Camilla were given a guided tour of Havana landmarks by Cuban historian Eusebio Leal.

Wearing sunglasses in the Caribbean sun, the heir to the British throne drew applause when he unveiled the statue of the 16th Century English playwright in the Cuban capital's Mercaderes street.

The royal couple visited a boxing gym as well as a dance center run by Carlos Acosta -- recently named director of the Royal Ballet in England's second city, Birmingham.

The 70-year-old prince and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall -- who added Cuba to a tour of Caribbean states at the request of the British government -- were later scheduled to be guests of honor at a dinner hosted by President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

"It's an honor for us to receive them and to show them with pride the nation that we are," Diaz-Canel said on Twitter.

"The visit reflects the good state of our relations," he said.

The royal trip comes as US President Donald Trump threatens to tighten sanctions against Cuba, branding Havana part of a "troika of tyranny" along with leftist Latin American allies Venezuela and Nicaragua.

British governments have long used royal visits as soft diplomacy and Charles' visit comes as British Prime Minister Teresa May is seeking new overseas markets amid Brexit.

Trade between the two countries has fallen off sharply in recent years, despite Cuba's growth as a destination for British tourists, shrinking to $63.6 million in 2017 from $168.6 million in 2013.

Britain sees opportunities in Cuba's booming tourism sector as well as energy. Around 200,000 British holidaymakers come to the island each year.