Spanish/Nat

Cuban leader Fidel Castro arrived in Spain on Monday for a brief visit at the invitation of Juan Carlos Rodriguez Ibarra, the leader of the regional government of Extremadura.

The visit to Spain is Castro’s first since his 1992 trip to his hometown in northwestern Galicia and shows a thawing in relations between the governments of Cuba and Spain.

Crowds turned out to cheer and support Cuban Leader Fidel Castro on his arrival.

The ageing leader arrived in Merida after spending the weekend in Portugal at the Ibero-American summit.

Castro was invited to the country by his friend Juan Carlos Rodriguez Ibarra, the leader of the regional government of Extremadura, who visited Cuba in July.

The visit shows a thawing in relations between the Spanish government and Cuba.

Jose Maria Aznar’s conservative government has long been critical of Cuba’s communist regime.

But in recent time relations have improved, with Aznar naming an ambassador to Cuba this April after a year and a half vacancy.

Castro himself welcomed the improved bilateral relations as he addressed reporters at the regional palace.

SOUNDBITE: (Spanish)
“The experience of my relations with the head of the Spanish government is that we both have been able to talk serenely and we both have been able to talk respectfully. And we both have been able to talk of issues of mutual interest to both countries. And I know that overcoming the political, ideological differences has improved the relations between both countries and has made many Spaniards very happy.”
SUPER CAPTION: Fidel Castro, Cuban president

He went on to say that relations were blossoming into one of friendship.

SOUNDBITE: (Spanish)
“I must say one thing, that is a very special occurrence for one thing. Every time that a Spanish delegation goes to Cuba – including businessmen – there develops an incredible climate of friendship and familiarity. Something that doesn’t happen normally with other countries’ delegations.”
SUPER CAPTION: Fidel Castro, Cuban president

Castro arrived in Spain from neighbouring Portugal, where he was one of 21 heads of state attending the eighth summit of 19 Latin American states and their former colonial powers Spain and Portugal.

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