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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Rencontre "historique" entre François Hollande et Fidel Castro

by Cathy Ceïbe

“Historic” Meeting Between François Hollande and Fidel Castro

Translated Thursday 18 June 2015, by Gene Zbikowski

The French president spoke with the Cuba’s former leader during his visit, during which he laid the foundations for economic cooperation with Havana.

Havana (Cuba), by our special correspondent.

Without making a bad pun, it can be stated that François Hollande’s official visit to Cuba resulted in a positive balance sheet. On the evening of May 11, the French president spoke with his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, for two hours, at the end of a day that marks a new era in French-Cuban relations. On the agenda for their meeting: new partnerships between France and Cuba, the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States, the participation of the Cuban head of state at the European Union-Latin America summit which will be held in Brussels in June, the lifting of the embargo, something that “France has always backed,” according to a favorite expression of François Hollande, although this orientation only dates from the 1990s, and finally human rights, following his meeting with Cardinal Ortega y Alamino, the mediator in the liberation of political prisoners.

A little earlier, the French national anthem, the Marseilleise, resounded on famous Revolution Square, where the two heads of state appeared in front of the monument commemorating José Marti, the Cuban independence hero. But the defining moment in this official trip, the first by a French president, will remain François Hollande’s meeting with Fidel Castro, who received him at his home, surrounded by his family. “I wanted to have this moment of history, world history. This is a man who has made history. I know what he has been able to represent for the peoples, including France,” François Hollande stated afterwards to French citizens at a reception at the French residence. For nearly an hour, the two men conversed, essentially on the issues of climate change and the environment, while Paris will organize the world conference on the climate (COP 21) in December. "We spoke lengthily on food, access to water and the risks for the planet. He is very well informed on all these questions. He told me of the expectations he feels and the attention he pays with regard to France’s role” in view of the COP 21, he added, while pointing out that he had been “truly surprised in the best sense of the word” by the revolutionary leader’s knowledge of the subject.

Jean-Pierre Bel, the former president of the French Senate, who was present at the meeting, confirmed the “direct” nature of their dialogue. “A dialogue between two men who are bound to be different, considering Fidel Castro’s personality. But they brought up convergent subjects. President Fidel Castro has been thinking for a long time on climate subjects. He looks at things distantly but lucidly. The way that he handles dialectics is still every bit as astonishing,” emphasized Bel, the artisan of Hollande’s visit and of the as much desired as unexpected meeting for many of the personalities who made up the French delegation. The same tone of satisfaction was expressed by André Chassaigne, the president of the France-Cuba friendship group at the French National Assembly. “We were waiting for this meeting because it has an extremely symbolic dimension. The fact of seeing the French president meeting this last great character of the 21st century is very important for two reasons. First, because Fidel Castro is one of very first politicians to have placed environmental questions at center stage. Secondly, because this day was marked by strong commitments.”

In trade terms, the economic forum, at which about thirty bosses of French companies were present, concluded with new partnerships, notably in the areas of health, with, in the bargain, the signing of agreements with the Pasteur Institute, agribusiness, renewable energy and in the academic area. During his speech, François Hollande mentioned the thorny question of the debt, although it was not planned on the agenda, even going so far as to speak of a spreading out, and even a possible partial erasure of the five billion dollars (of a total of 15 billion dollars) demanded of Havana. “Over 80% of this debt is made up of interest payments, so Cuba need not repay it,” said André Chassaigne. For Chassaigne, a communist deputy, it is important to set, as the priority axis, “the financial and banking accompaniment.” “Can it be tolerated that no bank should be capable of intervening in Cuba today? Or again that French companies, which invest in Cuba, should be obliged to turn to a Spanish or Canadian bank? The BPI, the French public bank, does not for the moment want to be a participant in investments in Cuba," he said critically, while arguing for France to materialize the announcements made during this visit, which François Hollande kept describing as “historic.”

Is there a cause-and-effect relationship? Barack Obama might also make a trip to Cuba in 2016, the White House spokesperson announced on May 11. “Cuba is (decidedly) in fashion,” to employ the expression of Leonardo Padura, the famous Cuban writer.

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