Cuban President Raul Castro last week paid an historic state visit to France, seeking to develop business and tourism ties as the Caribbean island opens up its economy.
The trip came after a breakthrough deal was reached in Paris in December to lighten Cuba’s foreign debt – and days after France hosted the leader of another long-time pariah state: Iran.
Castro, 84, is on his first official trip to Europe since taking over from his elder brother Fidel in 2006. The Cuban president briefly stopped to Rome last year to meet with Pope Francis.
French President Francois Hollande, the longtime former leader of France’s Socialist party, greeted Castro on Monday with a warm hug in the courtyard of the Elysee presidential palace in Paris, and then started the meeting saying in French “Vive Cuba!” (“Long live Cuba!”).
Castro lauded France’s role in helping the island nation develop good relations with Europe.
“We likewise thank the leadership of France for promoting construction of a new stage of relations between the European Union and Cuba, on the basis of mutual respect and reciprocity, in particular regarding negotiation of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, underway since April of 2014, currently in a very advanced phase,” he said in a statement.
Hollande told journalists that “President (Barack) Obama … must now follow through and allow this vestige of the Cold War to end.” France has called for the lifting of the U.S. embargo since 1991.
The two leaders held a joint press conference.
Below is a statement to the press by Army General Raúl Castro, President of the Councils of State and Ministers, on the occasion of his state visit to the French Republic, February 1, 2016, Year 58 of the Revolution.
Esteemed President François Hollande;
Distinguished members of the French delegation;
First of all, allow me to convey a cordial, affectionate greeting to the French people and their authorities, in the name of the people and government of Cuba. Our countries are united by historic and cultural links and deep ties of friendship.
I am sincerely grateful for the words expressed by President Hollande and for the warm welcome offered the Cuban delegation.
We have just concluded official talks with President François Hollande. This exchange, like the one in May this past year, in Havana, has taken place within a cordial environment, reflecting the mutual respect which characterizes our bilateral relations.
This is the first state visit by a Cuban President to France, and to a European Union member country. It reaffirms the excellent state of our relations, and reflects our shared willingness to consolidate political dialogue at the highest level.
We have held productive talks addressing the diverse issues on our bilateral agenda, following through on objectives and agreements reached during the historic visit made by President Hollande to Cuba last May, the first by a French head of state to our country.
We reiterate our desire to broaden and diversify bilateral relations with France, in all dimensions: political, economic-commercial, financial, cooperative, academic and cultural.
We have signed a Bilateral Economic Agenda which represents an important joint mechanism for the projection, follow-up and promotion of economic-commercial ties, those of cooperation and investment, including medium and long term plans.
Likewise significant is the signing of a bilateral agreement on Cuba’s debt to France, which creates more favorable conditions for the development of financial relations, and the execution of new plans and joint projects.
As is known, this past December 12, Cuba reached an important agreement with the creditor countries which are members of the Paris Club’s ad hoc group.
We reiterate our thanks to the French government for its significant role and constructive position in reaching this important outcome, which opens a new stage in economic, commercial and financial relations between Cuba and these countries, and will facilitate access to financing in the medium and long term, very necessary to the completion of projected investments in our development plans.
We recognize and welcome the willingness expressed by French authorities to accompany us and actively participate in plans for the economic and social development of Cuba.
We likewise thank the leadership of France for promoting construction of a new stage of relations between the European Union and Cuba, on the basis of mutual respect and reciprocity, in particular regarding negotiation of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, underway since April of 2014, currently in a very advanced phase.
We appreciate the traditional French position supporting the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba by the United States, which is the principal obstacle to the development of our country, and economic-commercial relations.
Just two months ago, this city was the site of the historic Paris Agreement, the result of an arduous process of negotiation during the 21st Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change. We express our congratulations to France and its authorities for the organization of this event, and for their valuable contribution, which allowed for the reaching of a balanced agreement, acceptable to all parties.
This next month of May, as the result of efforts and interest in increasing mutual understanding, for the first time, a month of Cuban culture in France and French culture in Cuba, will take place.
We have reiterated to the French government our disposition and commitment to maintaining this solid relationship. France has been, is, and will be an important associate for Cuba.
We are two states with different historical, cultural, geographic realities, and political systems. Nonetheless, the friendly, productive and respectful relation we maintain demonstrates that it is possible to undertake common goals and projects, which contribute to the development of our respective nations and all of humanity.
To conclude, I reiterate my affectionate greetings to this majestic and hospitable city which I am honored to visit, and my sincere thanks to President Hollande for the warm welcome he has offered us.
Thank you very much.