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French President Hollande Meets Raul and Fidel Castro in Cuba

Hollande calls for an end to US trade embargo and supports strengthened economic ties with the island nation

French president François Hollande made a stop Monday in Cuba while travelling through the Caribbean on a 5-day tour with ministers and secretaries of state, as well as a number of delegates from the private sector. The stopover represented a historical moment, being the first time a French leader has visited the small island country since its independence in 1898, as well as the first visit from a Western European leader since 1986 when Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez traveled there on a Latin American tour.

Hollande’s visit is emblematic of the changing relations between Cuba and the Western world as the United States moves to renew ties with the country. Following an announcement from President Obama in December of last year, the US began a process of gradually relaxing relations with Cuba, primarily through executive authority. In spite of resistance from the Republican-controlled congress, parts of the embargo which have been relaxed include restrictions on travel and on sending money to the island.

In the wake of these changes, a number of politicians and diplomats have made stops there, including New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo and EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Cuba in September.

Meeting with President Raul Castro, as well as his brother, the former leader Fidel Castro, Hollande’s visit demonstrated France’s desire to reinforce economic ties between the two countries. Referring to the US trade embargo which has been in place since the 1960s, Hollande stated that France will do whatever possible to ensure that “the measures which have so badly harmed Cuba’s development can finally be repealed”. Having long maintained reasonably good relations with the country, France is positioned to benefit from the move toward greater economic openness.

Since taking over the rule of Cuba in 2006 following his brother’s health crisis, President Raul Castro has presided over a number of gradual social and economic reforms. Re-establishing diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington is only the latest in this pattern of changes. Fidel has largely retreated from the public eye and makes few appearances.

Hollande’s travels continued Tuesday with a visit to Haiti to sign cooperation agreements and show support for the continuing reconstruction efforts which have been going on since the devastating 2010 earthquake.

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