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French foreign minister makes historic visit to Havana

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-04-13

A French foreign minister visited Cuba for the first time in 31 years on Saturday, amid efforts by the communist-run nation to improve trade relations with the European Union.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met with Cuban President Raul Castro to discuss politics, human rights, market-oriented reforms and bilateral relations between the two countries.

“We want to push forward our relations in the areas of culture, education, economics and politics,” Fabius, told reporters at the end of a one-day visit to the communist-run Caribbean country.

He arrived in Havana from Mexico, where he took part in an official visit by President François Hollande.

Cuban lawmakers recently approved a law aimed at making the country more attractive to foreign investors, a measure authorities hope can help turn around the island’s struggling economy.

Since Fabius took office in 2012, he has tried to shift more of France’s diplomatic focus towards commerce, namely, claiming contracts in markets where French firms are traditionally weak, like Latin America.

Construction and telecom firm Bouygues, beverage maker Pernod-Ricard, the Accor tourism corporation and energy company Total all have investments in Cuba, and are among 60 French firms operating in the country.

The EU agreed in February to begin negotiations with Cuba to increase trade, investment and dialogue on human rights in its most significant diplomatic shift since it lifted sanctions on the country in 2008.

The talks are scheduled to begin on April 29 in Havana, according to European diplomats, who said the French foreign minister’s visit would test the waters.

Cuba has been subject to a US embargo for five decades. It is eager to eliminate the EU’s “common position,” enacted in December 1996, which links human rights and democratic conditions to improved economic relations.

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters, AP)

Date created : 2014-04-13

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