During a historic visit to Havana on Monday, French President François Hollande called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and affirmed that France would remain “a faithful ally,” as the Communist-run island nation tries to re-engage the global economic system.
With the trip, Hollande became the first French president to visit Cuba since it became an independent country, the Associated Press reported. Hollande traveled with a large contingent of French business executives, emphasizing his goals of strengthening economic and diplomatic relations with Havana. The visit also came five months after the warming of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington, D.C.
“France will do everything it can to aid the process of opening Cuba and help get rid of measures that have so seriously damaged Cuba’s development,” Hollande said during remarks he gave at the University of Havana. The French president also visited former Cuban President Fidel Castro on Monday, a Cuban minister told reporters.
Currently on a tour of the Caribbean, Hollande had five of his own ministers in tow. The French delegation also included nearly two dozen French business executives from Pernod Ricard beverages, hotel company Accor, Air France, supermarket Carrefour and the telecommunications company Orange, the AP reported.
Cuba’s biggest European Union trading partners are Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and France. The EU is the island’s second-largest economic partner, with a combined $4.65 billion a year in trade in food, machinery and other goods, according to the AP.
In recent months, top diplomats from Japan, Russia and the EU have visited Cuba to stake out or maintain ties with Havana. The island has become more attractive as a prospective economic partner after full diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. were restored last December. The European Union suspended relations with Cuba in 2003, but France and the Netherlands campaigned for normalization of ties between Cuba and the 28-member bloc of nations.