Brief but intense, the historic visit by French President Francois Hollande to Cuba allowed strengthening bilateral ties and reaffirmed the Caribbean island”s position in the international scenario.
Hollande arrived in Havana on Sunday night as part of a Caribbean tour that also included Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Bartholomew and Saint Martin, and left for Haiti on Tuesday morning.
In just 30 hours, he had a tight agenda that included meetings with university students, his participation in an entrepreneurial forum, the inauguration of the new venue of the French Alliance in Havana and walking Havana streets.
The French president met with his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, with whom he exchanged viewpoints about the positive state of bilateral relations and the vast potential to further develop them, as well as some international issues.
The peak of Hollande’s visit was his meeting with the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, with whom he held an interesting dialogue on the historic ties between the two countries and the international situation.
Cuba and France established diplomatic relations in 1902, although relations between the two peoples started long before, during the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), when French landowners settled in eastern Cuba.
Hollande is the first French president who visits Cuba in history.
The visit took place in a context marked by the process between Cuba and the United States to reestablish diplomatic relations and amid negotiations between Havana and the European Union (EU) to sign an Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation.
Hollande, from the Socialist Party, committed to doing everything possible to contribute to the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, and with the EU.
In addition, in a master lecture he gave at the University of Havana, Hollande demanded an end to the US blockade of Cuba, which has hindered the country’s development, and promised to work to have those measures finally lifted.
He recalled that every year, since the beginning of the 1990s, his country has voted for an end to the US blockade on Cuba at the United Nations.
The French president also acknowledged Cuba’s role in Latin America and in the peace process in Colombia.
“Coming to Cuba is coming to a country that represented a form of expression, of vindication of dignity and independence for Latin America. That explains why it plays an important role in several mediations and favors peace,” he noted.
Holland also noted the solidarity work by Cuban doctors, especially to fight the Ebola epidemics in Africa, lauded the high level and high quality of education in Cuba and underlined that the French Alliance here is the biggest one in relation to the country’s population, with an enrollment of more than 12,000 students.
The French president’s official visit was a good occasion to sign several agreements in the fields of scientific research, higher education, cultural promotion, health care, energy and the agri-industry.
Among the agreements signed were one between the group Total and the company Cubapetroleo to sell hydrocarbons, a deal between the maritime transportation company CMA-CGM and the society AUSA, and a letter of intent to increase healthcare cooperation, especially to fight vectors.
Asked by Prensa Latina on the importance of this visit, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira described it as historic, and noted Cuba’s role in the Caribbean and its strategic position in the region.
For his part, André Chassaigne, chairman of the friendship group between the two countries at the French National Assembly, referred to the dimension and symbolism of the president being received by the leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro.
Hollande was seen off at the Jose Marti International Airport by Cuban President Raul Castro.
Asked by the press about the significance of his visit, Raul said, “Coming to see off President Holland is an expression of satisfaction with the results of his visit.”
(Carmen Esquivel, Prensa Latina)