MADRID — Last week Spain set out to reconquer America — or so it appeared.

Two days after Spanish actress Penelope Cruz received an Academy Award for her performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to Washington for what he described as “the beginning of a new era of collaboration between the United States and Spain.”  

Relations had cooled after Spain’s President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decided in 2004 to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq. But in his first meeting with the new U.S. administration, Moratinos told Clinton that Spain was ready, in principle, to take in some prisoners from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, according to news agencies. The two also discussed boosting the number of Spanish troops in Afghanistan. The Clinton-Moratinos meeting set the stage for Obama and Zapatero to meet for the first time at the April G20 summit in London.

But it was at another high-profile event in the U.S. last month, far from Washington and Hollywood, where Spaniards and Americans really got down to business. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia presided over a meeting in Miami of nearly 1,000 business leaders from both countries. Spanish chef and media-darling Jose Andres pleased palates with innovative culinary delights while those in attendance sought to build upon their shared strengths in vanguard industries, such as renewable energy.

This year marks the 450th anniversary of Spanish explorers establishing the first European settlement at Pensacola. The Spanish monarchy’s Florida visit included opportunities to encourage further Spain-U.S. collaboration.  

“These commemorations are a fine opportunity to disseminate our longstanding common history, a highlight of which was the Spanish crown’s support of American independence and the American revolution,” said the king. “On these foundations, we have built new and profitable relationships in all areas.”

While Spain’s history in the U.S. has long been overshadowed by that of the European settlers that would follow, there is now a palpable Spanish presence in the U.S. that may prove to be a Trojan horse for Spanish commerce. Spanish has long been the second language of choice among American students; but there is a transition afoot with a Spanish-speaking U.S. population estimated at 45 million. That number is projected to more than double in the next 40 years, to one in four Americans.

Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe will lead a delegation of 100 Spanish business leaders, including major banks and construction companies, into the promised land next month when he inaugurates the “Made in/Made by Spain” campaign in New York and Chicago.

There is significant precedent for collaboration according to a 2005 study published by the Spanish think tank, Real Instituto Elcano. At that time, about 600 U.S. multinationals had invested in Spain, accounting for 40 percent of the medicines and a third of the automobiles produced by the country.

However, Spain has a trade deficit with the U.S. that totaled nearly 3.5 billion euros ($4.4 billion) in 2008, according to Spain’s Ministry of Industry. Promoting Spain and its products in the U.S. is the objective of the two-year, 44 million euro ($55 million) “Plan USA” recently launched by Spain’s foreign trade institute, ICEX. While Spaniards were the first Europeans to explore North America, and colonists once traded with the Spanish currency, only 5 percent of Spain’s exports are sold in the U.S. — ranking a modest 32nd among countries exporting to the U.S. — according to the Real Instituto Elcano 2008 study, “The Image of Spain in the US.”  

Despite economic crises, and the passing of two centuries since the Spanish flag waved coast to coast over its own North American territories, Spaniards are again looking west toward a land of opportunity.

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