French President Francois Hollande arrived in Havana late Sunday evening to improve diplomatic and economic relations between France and Cuba.
Hollande was greeted by Deputy Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra and other Cuban officials and is expected to meet with Raul Castro on Monday.
Hollande is the first Western head of state to visit Cuba since the US and Cuba announced they would work to normalise relations in December 2014. He is also the first French leader to visit the island since 1898 when Cuba freed itself from Spanish rule.
In April 2014, some months before the US announcement, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited his counterpart Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla in Cuba, followed by the signing of a trade accord between the two countries a month later.
Raul Castro was in Italy on Sunday where during a visit to the Vatican he had a chance to thank Pope Francis for mediating the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.
Cuba, a communist country, has been embargoed by the European Union from 2003 until 2008 and by the United States since 1962 until it began to lift sanctions in December under the Obama administration.
Speaking in Guadeloupe before traveling to Cuba, Hollande said “Cuba wants to move on to a new phase, a new period, a new time for this island that was victim of an embargo,” but added “There are still a lot of measures in place that block trade and business.”
France and Cuba already have bilateral trade that is currently worth $388m, mostly from Cuban imports of French goods and services.
While details remain unclear, several agreements are to be signed during Hollande’s Cuban visit.
Hollande visited Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Martinique and Guadaloupe before arriving in Cuba. He is expected to conclude his tour of the Caribbean with Haiti on Tuesday.