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France's Hollande Begins Historic Visit to Cuba

  • VOA News

French President Francois Hollande arrived in Cuba late Sunday night, becoming the first French head of state to visit the communist nation.

"I arrive here in Cuba this evening with a lot of excitement," Hollande said after he was greeted at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport by Deputy Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra and other high-ranking Cuban officials. He plans to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro Monday upon the Cuban leader's return from Italy, which included a visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Hollande is the first Western leader to visit Cuba since Castro and President Barack Obama announced last December that they would seek to end more than five decades of Cold War-related bitterness. But, unlike the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, Paris and Havana have long-established financial ties, with two-way trade worth nearly $400 million.

Hollande's stopover in Cuba is the last stop on a five-nation tour of the Caribbean.