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Prince Charles heads to Cuba amid US tensions

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AFP, Havana :
Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla will make the first royal visit to communist-run Cuba on Sunday at a time when ally Washington is seeking to ramp up sanctions against the island.
The 70-year-old prince was asked by the British government to add Cuba to a long-planned tour of Caribbean nations as Brexit spurs it to seek alternative trading partners to the European Union.
"Royal visits are used as part of diplomacy in the British system. They're a useful way of sending messages, of making contacts and moving to next stages in diplomatic negotiations," said former British ambassador Paul Webster Hare.
The visit 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.
The White House is threatening to activate the long-dormant Helms-Burton Act which extended the 1962 US embargo to apply to foreign companies trading with Cuba. Charles's Clarence House headquarters said the trip to the socialist island had been organized at the behest of the British government, aimed at boosting "growing bilateral relations" and "cultural links".
"It's positive in terms of demonstrating the UK's wish to have closer relations with Cuba, that we have an independent policy to that of the United States," according to Caribbean Council head Chris Bennett.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel will host a dinner for the royal couple in Havana during the visit, but there are no official plans to meet his predecessor, Raul Castro, who still heads the Cuban Communist Party.
The prince is unlikely to raise the issue of human rights or Cuba's support for Venezuela's embattled regime of President Nicolas Maduro.
"I doubt it would be appropriate for him to make any public statement of that nature because he is not a political figure in that sense," said Bennett.

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