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Tags: Francois Hollande | France | EU | diplomacy

French President's Historic Cuba Trip Leads EU Detente

Friday, 08 May 2015 10:03 PM EDT

Francois Hollande will become the first French president to visit Cuba in more than a century on Monday, cementing Paris' leading role in the European Union's rapprochement with the communist island.

The EU suspended relations with Cuba in 2003 over a crackdown on journalists and activists, but it began talks to restore them in April 2014, aiming to persuade Havana to improve its human-rights record.

It was under the French presidency of the EU in 2008 that political dialogue was first resumed between Brussels and Havana. Raul Castro had just taken over power from his brother Fidel and announced a series of economic reforms.

"France has always been a leader in the European Union. The fact that the French president is coming shows France's very important role in the dialogue between Cuba and the European Union," said Eduardo Perera, of the University of Havana.

U.S.-based Cuba analyst Arturo Lopez-Levy said Hollande's visit will be the first by a western European leader since Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez in 1986.

France, which has made its relations with Latin America and the Caribbean a foreign policy priority, has along with the Netherlands been a vociferous campaigner for the normalization of ties between Cuba and the 28-member European bloc.

Europe's rapprochement with Cuba actually began nine months before the United States said in December that it was pursuing a historic thaw with its Cold War-era adversary.

Eleven years after the diplomatic break, EU members in 2014 unanimously approved the opening of discussions aimed at achieving an "agreement on political dialogue and cooperation."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius made a brief stopover to Cuba in 2014, the first visit to the island by France's top diplomat in three decades.

 

Fabius' visit has been followed with trips by several other French ministers. According to various officials close to Hollande, this speaks to an increasingly important relationship between the two countries.

"France wants to strengthen its ties with Latin America, and, in this context, we wanted relations to be strengthened in particular with Cuba," Fabius said at the time of his visit.

With Hollande's visit, the first by a French president since Cuban independence in 1898, France "is about to untie the ideological knot that has limited the effectiveness and flexibility of foreign policy and security vis-a-vis Cuba," said Lopez-Levy, an analyst from New York University's Center for Global Affairs.

French officials recognize the importance of the EU's positioning itself politically and economically for when the U.S. embargo, in place since 1962, is eventually lifted.

Trade between France and Cuba is modest, worth about $388 million a year, with the balance solidly in France's favor.

One French official said there is no rivalry with Washington in terms of France's relationship with Cuba.

"It would be absurd to start a heated competition or rivalry with the United States on relations with Cuba," the official said.

 

© AFP 2022


TheAmericas
Francois Hollande will become the first French president to visit Cuba in more than a century on Monday, cementing Paris' leading role in the European Union's rapprochement with the communist island.
Francois Hollande, France, EU, diplomacy
478
2015-03-08
Friday, 08 May 2015 10:03 PM
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