Page last updated at 09:11 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 10:11 UK

Havana ceremony honours del Toro

Benicio del Toro
Del Toro's film Che was a big hit in Cuba last year

Oscar-winning actor Benicio del Toro has been presented with an award by the Cuban government in Havana, in recognition of his body of work.

The inaugural Tomas Gutierrez Alea prize was presented at a ceremony attended by US actors Robert Duvall, James Caan and Bill Murray.

Their visit is seen as a sign of warming Cuban-US relations.

Puerto Rican-born del Toro played revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara in two films out last year.

Named after prolific Cuban filmmaker Alea, the new award was voted for by the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.

Del Toro - who won a best supporting actor Oscar for Traffic in 2001 - said it was "an honour" to receive the award and thanked Che director Steven Soderbergh.

This is a show that will never be able to be repeated. Bill Murray singing, Robert Duvall with his flowers, James Caan sitting here next to me
Benicio del Toro

The director's two-part, four-and-a-half hour biopic on the Argentine revolutionary who helped Fidel Castro take power in Cuba in 1959, was a big hit on the island.

Murray sang songs to union members packed into a room behind the group's main headquarters.

He then jokingly passed around a baseball cap to collect tips for the pianist who accompanied him.

"This is a show that will never be able to be repeated," del Toro said.

"Bill Murray singing, Robert Duvall with his flowers, James Caan sitting here next to me, with [Cuban actors] Jorge Perugorria and Mirta Ibarra.

"It will stay in history forever."

Because of the long-standing US trade embargo against communist Cuba, Americans have been forbidden - with some exceptions - from visiting the island, which is 90 miles (145km) away from Key West, Florida.

Hollywood stars such as Robert Redford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Steven Spielberg have visited in the past but cultural exchanges slowed down because of restrictions imposed by former US President George W Bush.

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