• France's news in English
Hollande to welcome Cuba's Castro in Paris
Raul Castro and Fraçois Hollande. Photo: AFP

Hollande to welcome Cuba's Castro in Paris

AFP · 1 Feb 2016, 08:09

Published: 01 Feb 2016 08:09 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The Cuban leader arrived in Paris on Saturday, two days ahead of the start of the official programme, sources at Orly airport south of Paris said.

Castro's visit is an indication of his island's improved ties with major powers following last year's restoration of relations with longtime foe, the United States.

On the back of that rapprochement the 84-year-old leader is now paying court to France, one of his most powerful European allies.

French officials said when the visit was announced on January 19th that it would mark "a new stage in the strengthening of relations between the two countries" following on from President Francois Hollande's own state visit to Cuba last May, the first by a western head of state in more than half a centrury.

"This visit is important for Cuba's image," said Eduardo Perera, an expert in international relations at Havana University, specializing in Europe.

"It will undeniably make Cuba shine on the international stage."

Havana hopes the visit will allow Cuba to "widen and diversify its relations with France in all possible areas -- politics, economics, trade, finance, investment, culture and cooperation," said Rogelio Sierra, Cuban deputy foreign minister.

Although Washington has yet to lift its half-century trade embargo on Cuba, US and European businesses are jockeying for a place in the market as the island's economy gradually opens up. Hollande urged an end to the blockade, which was imposed in 1962, on his Havana visit.

Trade delegations have been flocking to Cuba, hoping to cash in on its highly trained workforce and natural assets such as its sun-drenched Caribbean beaches, a draw for tourists.

Cuba, meanwhile, needs to tap new sources of income as its main ally and financial backer, Venezuela, remains mired in economic and political crisis.

During Castro's visit, France and Cuba are expected to sign an "economic roadmap" to improved ties, French officials said.

They will also sign deals on transport, tourism and fair trade.

Bilateral trade between France and Cuba is currently worth about $195 million.

That level is "not in line with our ambitions," France's minister of state for foreign trade, Matthias Fekl, was quoted as saying in French newspaper L'Humanite.

Castros in the Elysee

Castro's Paris trip is his first state visit to Europe since he took over from his elder brother Fidel as leader in 2006. The latter visited France in 1995 and met then president Francois Mitterrand.

French officials said Hollande will officially receive his guest Monday under the Arc de Triomphe at the top of Champs Elysees avenue, which will be decked with Cuban flags.

Castro will then hold talks with Hollande at the Elysee presidential palace and attend a state dinner before Tuesday meeting various French officials.

France recently engineered an agreement among the Paris Club of international creditors to write off $8.5 billion of Cuba's debt.

It could now agree to further debt relief, potentially widening Cuba's access to international financial markets.

Story continues below…

Paris is also taking a leading role in strengthening Cuba's political ties with Europe as a whole.

Human rights remains a sensitive issue, with international authorities accusing the Castros of repressing and harassing their political opponents.

The government is sensitive about being lectured on the topic.

A diplomatic source in Paris said human rights "will be discussed" during the bilateral talks. Hollande is expected to take a discreet stance on the issue, however, after his meeting with Fidel Castro last year drew some criticism.

Hollande this week hosted Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, another head of state from a country whose leaders are accused of human rights abuses.

Hailing a "new relationship," Hollande and Rouhani sealed a sheaf of large trade deals drawn up after nuclear sanctions on Iran were lifted.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
France given wake up call as it bids for Brexit business
The business district 'La Defense' in Paris. Photo: AFP

France clearly has some work to do if it really wants to pinch business from the UK post-Brexit.

Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
Do you know the French word for throat-support? Photo: AFP

Word of warning: Don't translate French literally.

How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Yellow smoke rises around French police officers in Paris holding a banner reading "Solidarity with our colleagues, police angry". All photos: AFP

Could these measures stop the cops from protesting?

'3,000 migrants dispersed' after 'Jungle' clearance
Photo: AFP

While thousands of migrants have been bussed out around France, new ones are arriving all the time and thousands of others have simply been dispersed aid agencies say.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Photo: Matthew Powell/Flickr

A must read for anyone who wants to stay on the right side of the law in France.

Medieval town in south of France upholds ban on UFOs
The town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Photo: Aa77zz/Flickr

Aliens take note.

American tourist dies at French Riviera sex club
The Riviera resort of Cannes. Photo: AFP

American tourist reportedly fell five floors after being pushed outside the underground sex club in Cannes.

Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Photo: SeaBubbles

An in Seine idea surely? But tests will go ahead.

France joins fight for rich pickings from post-Brexit UK
Photo: AFP/DcnH/Flickr

France tries to woo EU's bank regulator and other agencies.

How speaking French can really mess up your English
Photo: CollegeDegree360/Flickr

So you've mastered French, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available