François Hollande of France Meets Fidel and Raúl Castro in Cuba

This article originally appeared in the New York Times | Wednesday, 13 May 2015 | Click here for original article

President François Hollande of France has called for an end to the United States trade embargo against Cuba, where he met with Fidel Castro in the first visit by a Western head of state to Havana since the United States announced plans in December to re-establish diplomatic relations with the country.

“I had before me a man who made history,” Mr. Hollande was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying, referring to Mr. Castro, who wore an Adidas tracksuit over a checked shirt during the surprise 50-minute meeting at Mr. Castro’s home in Havana on Monday.

Mr. Hollande, making the first official visit by a French president to Cuba, said that Mr. Castro, 88, who led the Cuban revolution and ruled the country for almost half a century, had a “a lot to say,” and demonstrated intellectual acuity and alertness, according to reports in the French news media.

Mr. Castro, who rarely appears in public and has retreated from the global stage, complained to Mr. Hollande about pain in his knee and shoulder, news reports said.

President François Hollande of France called on Monday for an end to the United States trade embargo on Cuba, saying France would work to get the measures repealed.

The two men discussed a wide range of subjects, including climate change and the environment, and the French newspaper Le Monde pointed out that in a country with limits on freedom of information, Mr. Castro told Mr. Hollande that he did research on the Internet.

For Mr. Hollande, whose approval ratings at home are low, the visit was a chance to reinforce economic ties between Cuba and France while also basking in the reflected glory of an aging revolutionary who still inspires global fascination and some degree of adulation, particularly among some members of France’s left-wing elite.

Mr. Hollande, who also met with President Raúl Castro, noted that his trip came “at a particularly important but also uncertain time,” Agence France-Presse said. In December, President Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than half a century.

The American move, the culmination of 18 months of secret talks with the help of Pope Francis, has opened the way for warmer ties between Cuba and the West, even as there remains deep concern about Cuba’s record with human rights and democracy.

Speaking on Monday at the University of Havana, Mr. Hollande said that France would work hard to ensure that the measures that undermined Cuba’s development would be “repealed,” the agency reported.

Mr. Hollande also called for Cuba to open up its economy. “Of course, we would like to see your rules relaxed and for our companies to be able to manage their resources more freely,” he was quoted by the agency as saying.

André Chassaigne, a member of the Communist Party in Parliament who leads a group of lawmakers devoted to ties between France and Cuba, told the newspaper Libération that Mr. Hollande’s meeting with Fidel Castro was a moment of great importance. “One can say whatever one wants,” he said, “but Fidel Castro is the last great figure of the 20th century.”

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