Francois Hollande arrived in Havana marking the first official visit by a French president to Cuba amidst a historic diplomatic thaw between the US and Havana, Efe news agency reported.
Hollande’s journey to Cuba is part of a Caribbean tour which began in the French Antilles, consisting of St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Martinique and Guadeloupe, and will conclude in Haiti on May 12.
At Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport on Sunday, Hollande was received by Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra.
“I come to Cuba with great emotion because it is the first time that a president of the French Republic has come to Cuba,” Hollande told the media in a statement.
“It is also symbolic to be the first Western head of state to take part in the overture to Cuba and to accompany the country in its transition,” he said, adding: “There are historic ties, deep ties, between the people of France and the people of Cuba.”
He then stressed the particular significance of the timing in regard to the restored ties between Havana and Washington.
“France, the European Union, will accompany Cuba in this process,” the president said, emphasising that Cuba would have “a faithful ally” in France.
Hollande is to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro on Monday amidst a full schedule that includes a ceremony with Catholic Church Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who will receive France’s highest decoration, the Legion of Honour.
On Monday, the president will also meet with students and professors from the University of Havana, where he will sign agreements on academic and cultural exchange.
On the economic front, Hollande will hold a forum with heads of an extensive business delegation accompanying him.
Hollande is travelling with an extensive entourage that includes ecology, justice, social affairs and health, culture and communication ministers, and officials from French educational, scientific and cultural institutes.
The trip comes two months after another historic visit to Cuba by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini.
Mogherini pushed to accelerate negotiations with Cuba, which began in April 2014, to reach an agreement on political dialogue and cooperation before the end of year.