Articles - January 2016

Spain's Man in Miami
Consul General of Spain Cándido Creis

By Roland Flamini

In August 2015, King Felipe VI of Spain and Queen Letizia visited St. Augustine, Fla., to add their luster to the 450th anniversary celebrations of its founding as a Spanish colony, making it the oldest city in America. Among the officials welcoming the royal couple was the familiar face of Spain’s then new consul general to the state, Cándido Creis. Familiar because Creis, a career diplomat, had until recently served as the young king’s chief of protocol, and had held the same office under the king’s father, King Juan Carlos, until the latter’s abdication. In fact, Creis, 50, spent eight of his 20-year diplomatic career as a member of Spain’s royal household, in two separate periods with assignments in Israel and the Spanish mission to the European Union in Brussels in between. He was involved in the events leading up to the abdication of Juan Carlos -- a chapter in Spain’s recent history on which he is, understandably, reticent. He took up his post in Miami just in time to greet the arriving king. Spain has nine consulates-general in the United States, but Miami has a special significance because of its historic links to Spain and its strong Hispanic presence – primarily the result of Cuban refugees, but with a large influx from all over Latin America. If ever bi-linguality flourished in the U.S. it is in Miami, where Creis can hold conversations with many local officials in his native Spanish. But Cries’ primary responsibility is the 40,000 Spanish citizens working and living in the consulate’s area of coverage, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina – the highest number in any Spanish consular jurisdiction. His other objective is to advance Spanish business and cultural interests, and to handle the brisk two-way traffic of students – Spaniards coming to Florida, and Americans wishing to study in Spain. New security considerations have made the visa process more complex, but as Consul General Creis told Diplomatic Connections in a recent interview in his Miami office, bi-lateral relations with the United States are healthy, including in the area of security cooperation. 
Diplomatic Connections: Did you come to Miami directly from your post at the royal palace?

Consul General Creis: No, I came from Milan where I was deputy commissioner of the Spanish pavilion at the Milan Food Fair [Expo Milan 2015: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life]. Spain had a good project there, and they wanted someone to be on the spot to set up the whole operation. I was there for six months.

Diplomatic Connections: Is the exhibition now closed?

Consul General Creis: Yes, and it was a great success. The Italian organizers were expecting 22 million visitors overall and got 20.5 million: we were expecting 2.2 million at the Spanish pavilion but in fact we got 3.3 million, so for us it was a great, great success.

Diplomatic Connections: But before that you served at Sarsuela, the royal palace for quite some time.

Consul General Creis: Yes, I was chief of protocol at the royal palace – for my last six months with King Felipe, and before that with King Juan Carlos. It was a fantastic post, probably one of the most interesting post you can have as a civil servant, because of the things you work at, and because you are serving your country at the level of the head of state. Of course, it’s all team work.

Diplomatic Connections: You held the post during the abdication of King Juan Carlos in favor of Crown Prince Felipe in 2014.

Consul General Creis: Working on the abdication was a fascinating experience. It had to be crafted very carefully. It was the first time that it was done in the Spanish democracy, and I’m very proud that the process was calm, and at the same time very serene, but also having the dignity of the situation. Everything had to be planned in very great detail at very short notice [According to media reports, King Juan Carlos stepped down three weeks after making his decision to abdicate]. And several Spanish institutions were involved in the preparations – the office of the prime minister, the Spanish parliament, the security forces. Planning, coordination, and lots of work were the key elements of a successful outcome.

Diplomatic Connections: What was it like working at Sarsuela?

Consul General Creis: Working at the palace meant prepare, prepare and prepare at every step; but at the same time the corollary of that principle was be ready to improvise if necessary. So that’s basically what I learned. If you ask me to define what protocol is I would say, common sense, and also respect.

Diplomatic Connections: What are you tasked with in Miami?

Consul General Creis: Consuls do many things that embassies don’t do. First and foremost is to serve the Spanish population. There’s been a great increase in the last few years, and we now have around 40,000 Spaniards in our area of coverage—more than in the New York area of responsibility. Our area, incidentally, comprises Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Diplomatic Connections: How does this Spanish presence break down geographically?

Consul General Creis: South Carolina has about 80; in Georgia it’s probably 1,100 – 2,000; and the rest is Florida. We’re talking about Spaniards who have registered with the consulate: we calculate that a third of those 40,000 have not registered, because many people who, for example, come here for a year – you don’t want to spend the time coming here to this office to register. They find out that they need to register when they want to renew their passport, which is every nine years, so it takes a little while.

Diplomatic Connections: What about during elections in Spain?

Consul General Creis: Yes. We mailed out thousands of notices to Spanish citizens in advance of the December 20 elections in Spain. There is a wonderful collectivity about the Spanish community: they’re a very good bunch of people. Some came during the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies to study or to be with family, especially Spaniards of Cuban origin many of whom had fled from Cuba. These did very well: they worked very, very hard, they have at the same time become very American, but they still are conscious of their Spanish origin and they’re very fond of Spain. In Florida, for example, there are hundreds of people named Suarez, including the Miami city commissioner. It’s a family name originating in Asturias. Many of them go to Asturias almost every year, some to see relatives. Some have bought or inherited small houses there, or a piece of land. They come and go all the time.

Diplomatic Connections: But Spain is also a big tourist draw for Americans in general.

Consul General Creis: Yes enormous. In the past, Spain meant beaches, sun, and sangria. Now people go for the history, the museums, the culture, nature, and the gastronomy. There are visitors who go to Spain for two or three days specifically to eat at three or four famous restaurants that have won stars in the Michelin guide.

Diplomatic Connections: What about the global village syndrome? Is there a more recent influx of Spaniards into the area?

Consul General Creis: Lately, there have been many businessmen, young professionals, escaping from the economic problems in Spain, which fortunately are now receding. They are attracted by the quality of life, good schools for children, and Florida is very welcoming. We also deal with a lot of students who want to study in Spain, which is the third destination for U.S. college students studying abroad. This is an important part of our role. It establishes bridges: after their study these students continue to be linked to Spain, inasmuch as Spaniards studying in the United States establish a similar network. For example, there are Spanish students on scholarships from a Spanish oil corporation pursing advance courses on sustainable energy at U.S. universities.

Diplomatic Connections: King Felipe was at Georgetown.

Consul General Creis: Yes, good example.

Diplomatic Connections: Increasingly, the growing Hispanic presence in this country raises the issue of their political influence, and Florida, is a good place to consider this. How does that impact on Spanish interests in the United States?

Consul General Creis: That’s a question that would probably be better addressed to the embassy, actually.

Diplomatic Connections: Yes, but you’re in the front line here, with two of the Republican presidential candidates having strong links with Florida. You probably know them both.

Consul General Creis: I have just arrived and I have met one of them. But one thing I need to clarify is that the consulate does not relate to political issues. At the consulate family here we have a trade commissioner, an education and culture commissioner, we also have a tourist office, so it’s basically promoting Spanish links with Florida. We do not get involved that much in politics – political issues are dealt with within the framework of the embassy.

Diplomatic Connections: Even so, both culture and trade can and often do have a diplomacy dimension, and hasn’t there been a recent increase in the use of cultural diplomacy to gain attention, to advance a country’s interests?

Consul General Creis: Well, yes, soft diplomacy. The consulate has just opened an art exhibition in our downtown cultural center called “Cuba Now: the New Generation” showing the paintings and sculptures of a new generation of Cuban artists. In the same event are included film, theater, music and dance. The Mexicans are doing the same, so there’s a trend. For us it’s the result of our deputy consul having previously been cultural counselor in Havana and getting to know many people within the art movements in Cuba.

Diplomatic Connections: In your view, how has the recent resumption of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations impacted on life in Miami?

Consul General Creis: For example, if you go to Art Basel [the major art convention held in Miami in early December] every single exhibition has works by Cuban artists. There has been an upsurge in Cuban art on exhibition compared to previous years.

Diplomatic Connections: But coming back to the Spanish presence, has Spain’s commercial activity in your area increased?

Consul General Creis: In 2014, Spain exports to Florida totaled $836.7 million, an increase of 16.30 percent over the previous year: Florida exports to Spain amounted to $319.5 million, an increase of 12.29 percent. In the last year there’s been a further increase in Spanish exports to Florida, and that’s not only because of the exchange rate [of the weakened euro], the quality of Spanish food products – meat, vegetables, olive oil, wine -- speaks for itself, and the quality-price ratio is attractive. The problems in the home market in the last few years made Spanish businesses seek markets abroad. There are big Spanish construction companies competing for contracts in the United States and in Latin America, and often winning them. But middle sized companies that before had not ventured into the international market are now trying to expand across the Atlantic.

Diplomatic Connections: Recent terrorist attacks on both sides of the Atlantic have raised security questions about the procedures for foreigners entering the United States. Do visitors from Spain face closer scrutiny?

Consul General Creis: [The process] takes longer, but it’s necessary. Contacts between the United States – Washington – and Madrid are excellent. We do not deal with such negotiations here, but we have to implement them and we have to be very alert. Basically people know that the system in the U.S. is very serious, and you can’t avoid it. Everything these days is connected through the internet. We had a case recently of someone who ten years ago was told to leave the U.S. permanently; when this person tried to come back into this country he was stopped at the airport and sent back to Spain.

Diplomatic Connections: Does a Spanish official – let’s put it that way – feel more comfortable in Spanish speaking Miami than, for example, in Irish speaking Chicago?

Consul General Creis: Well, you go to an event in Miami and it could be conducted in either English or Spanish. The other day, I went to a charter school graduation and the students were offered the choice of further education in either the United States or in Spain.

Diplomatic Connections: Do you think this country is on the way to embracing bi-linguality officially, like Canada?

Consul General Creis: I don’t think it will be mandated by Congress, you Americans are too practical for that. A fifty-fifty division won’t make any sense, and also this is a melting pot, and you have to respect other minorities. But that doesn’t mean more Spanish will not be spoken across the country in the future.

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