France and Cuba Sign New Agreements

The French-Cuban cooperation agreements encompass areas in the economy, sciences and the arts

By Pilar Montes

French President Francois Hollande (c) at the inauguration of the new French Alliance headquarters in Havana. Foto:

HAVANA TIMES — The French president accompanied by five ministers and the highest executives of his country’s leading companies could not end his visit to Cuba empty-handed.

In less than 48 hours, the said president managed to meet with the island’s two top authorities, his counterpart Raul Castro and the legendary Fidel Castro. He also delivered a lecture at the University of Havana, inaugurated the new venue of Cuba’s Alliance Francaise and closed the Economic Forum attended by dozens of businesspeople and the representatives of 30 French firms established in the Caribbean country.

Photos published in Cuba’s official Granma newspaper document all of these activities and something we don’t often see among such high-level visitors: the president shaking hands with common Cubans down Old Havana’s Prado promenade, drawn by curiosity to his entourage.

Cuban Minister for Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca explained that the exchanges between Cuban and French businesspeople allowed both to identify “common interests,” with a view to establishing cooperative efforts in several sectors.

Malmierca announced that Cuba is interested in signing a shared risk and production prospecting agreement with the energy-sector company Total, aimed also at the training of Cuban personnel and the modernization of the Santiago de Cuba refinery.

Studies conducted by Cuban geologists estimate there more than 20 billion barrels of oil in reserves at the Gulf of Mexico Exclusive Economic Zone, though no commercial quality findings have yet to be reported after several deep-water drilling efforts.

France wishes to broaden its commercial ties with the island, dealings which in 2014 were estimated at 180 million euros, somewhat less than the previous year and far removed from the commercial flow Cuba maintained with other European partners such as Spain, Holland or Italy.

Jean Francois Lepy, commercial manager for Soufflet, a leading French grain export company, said that his company has been based in Cuba for 30 years.

The top executives of Pernod-Ricard, a distributor of Havana Club brand rum, reporting more and more sales every year (a total of nearly four million boxes), also spoke of their success in the market.

The firm Accor announced the construction of a new luxury hotel on the island and Air France expressed its intention of operating more than its current 14 weekly flights to Cuba.

Though current trade figures are modest, France has already become the third largest investor on the island, boasting of important Cuban-based companies (such as those mentioned).

Other corporations of the size of Carrefour – a large international supermaket chain – and the telecommunications company Orange expressed their wish to avail themselves of the opportunities afforded by the Caribbean market and expand within the region.

In the field of higher education, the National Scientific Research Center of France signed a framework cooperation agreement with the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, before Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel and the dean of the University of Havana, Gustavo Cobreiro.

The University of Havana signed agreements with Paris-Sud and Paris 1 universities and with the Arts and Trades Conservatory of France.
As President Hollande explained, these agreements are a foretaste of others both nations hope to enter into in the near future.

Paris’ Pasteur Institute and Havana’s Finlay Institute (as well as the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the Aviva laboratories and the medical universities in the two countries) will be some of the institutions soon to enter into cooperation agreements.

The French leader, who asked the United States to lift the embargo imposed on the country over half a century ago, acknowledged that the embargo was detrimental to bilateral exchange and that, though the exchange of goods can be thwarted, the exchange of ideas cannot.

As such, Hollande said that France plans on continuing to broaden cooperation with Cuba, in the hopes of joining efforts in the fields of science, agronomy, physics and environmental management (at the Masters and doctorate levels).

On the occasion of the 18th French Cinema Festival which ended the previous week in Havana, the Cuban Institute for Film Art and Industry (ICAIC) and the National Cinema Center (CNC) of France signed a cooperation agreement to promote cinema in both countries.

“Our countries,” Frederique Bredin, chairwoman of the CNC commented, “share a great passion for cinema, which is the object of a very specific cultural policy in both Cuba and France.”

According to Bredin, the agreement seeks to increase the number of co-productions and artistic and technical exchange programs. Over recent years, six highly popular French-Cuban movies (such as Laurent Cantet’s recently released Return to Ithaca) have been filmed.

Similarly, an agreement for the restoration of films signed in 2012 has been extended, and there are plans to digitalize one of the Havana movie theaters. La Rampa, a cinema built in 1955, was chosen for this.

Following the departure of the French delegation, Havana’s Malecon ocean drive and the streets of Old Havana have not exactly enjoyed much peace. Their avenues continue to be frequented, not only by tourists, but by white-collar men and women carrying briefcases.

6 thoughts on “France and Cuba Sign New Agreements

  • Your comments are a reflection of your biases and have no basis in reality. Obama is no fan of Vidal. As far as is known publicly, he has no opinion. Privately, one can only imagine what his opinion is given the US action against her husband. Look it up yourself. What credible polls make Rubio the winner? First of all, Clinton handily beats ALL challengers, Democrats and Republicans. Second, Rubio has to first overcome his mentor Bush. Third, it’s still to early to call. Bay of Pigs was not a US military operation. It was a ragtag group of Cuban exiles trained but poorly supported by the CIA. No comparison to the most powerful military force in the history of the world. Your comments are childish and silly.

  • Vilifying Vidal is an everyday job for anti-Castro propagandists, Moses. The Pope and the President are among her biggest fans. You are also wrong about Rubio. As things now stand, he is the winner…unless he blows it. Vidal, who will be back in Washington Thursday, hasn’t been wrong in prognosticating U.S.-Cuban relations since 2002. That’s why the Cuba 5 is back in Cuba, Alan Gross is back in Maryland, and Cuba, as of May 29th, is off the Sponsors of Terrorism list. When and if Vidal makes a misjudgment about such things, Revolutionary Cuba, I assume, will cease to exist. Your prediction about the U. S. military advantage over Cuba is right on, except that there were similar advantages and similar predictions in mid-April of 1961 at the Bay of Pigs, or have you forgotten, Moses?

  • The US embargo does not preclude French businesses from doing business with Cuba. As prognosticators of US Presidential elections go, Vidal is poorly qualified. Rubio is a long shot at winning the Republican nomination, let alone the general election. A US military invasion of tiny Cuba would maybe last a few days. It won’t matter where any of the puppet leaders you named were located.

  • Two brilliant questions, Moses: “Can someone explain what was keeping French businesses from working with the Castros before now? What has changed for the French?” Uh, Moses — Answer #1: “The U. S. embargo.” Answer #2: “President Obama easing the U. S. embargo.” Of course, as an anti-Castro zealot and pro-Batistiano propagandist, I’m sure you’ll disagree with those two answers. Anti-Castro zealotry and pro-Batistiano propaganda in the U. S. has finally grown old after six decades, don’t you think? Cuba has already designated 54-year-old non-Castro Miguel Diaz-Canel as its next leader and currently a rather brilliant Minister named Josefina Vidal is directing the island’s transition into a new generation. 83-year-old Raul and 88-year-old Fidel are old news, essentially, while Diaz-Canel and Vidal are new news, emphatically. I wonder what the anti-Castro zealots will do when the transition is official? Provoke and assail Diaz-Canel and Vidal, I reckon, with another Brothers to the Rescue venture or, maybe, another Bay of Pigs. To re-capture Cuba, the Batistianos first need to first capture the U. S. and they can do that in 2016 by electing Rubio as the Commander in Chief. So, Moses, your work is cut out for you. Just jump on the Rubio bandwagon. Vidal has already concluded Rubio will win in 2016 and I can’t recall Vidal ever being wrong on prognosticating U.S.-Cuban relations, can you? So, all this diplomacy foolishness is the lull between the storm. The big question is how Diaz-Canel and Vidal react to a Rubio being Commander in Chief. Fidel in 1961 raced to the front-lines at the Bay of Pigs; the next front-lines will be Havana in the West and Santiago-de-Cuba in the East. Vidal will likely control the firewall in Havana while Diaz-Canel will man the beachhead in Santiago-de-Cuba. Diplomacy will fill the void in the lull between the storms. The lush island of Cuba is far too appealing to merely leave it alone, especially when revenge melds with dollar bills and political power.

  • Trade missions are well known for their hype. The truth is always very different. Cuba is the cute new girl in class. Every guy will try to make a run at her. When these businesses seriously begin to uncover what the pros and cons are with doing business with the Castros, things will revert to normal. Can someone explain what was keeping French businesses from working with the Castros before now? What has changed for the French?

  • France produces over four hundred types of cheese. In our city in Cuba there has not been any cheese available since March 2. Is it possible to hope that the President of France will remedy this?
    When there was no Cuban beer available, Heineken from Holland, Corona from Mexico, Presidente from Dominica and even Prima from Portugal appeared. Can we hope for Brie, Camembert and Pont L’eveque cheese from France?
    Never mind the cultural activities and educational agreements, just send some cheese!
    It is amusing that Carrefour the supermarket chain and Orange a telecommunications company were mentioned as wishing to expand in the Caribbean market – they can forget Cuba. Imagine ETECSA allowing competition, Rafin SA would not approve.
    Now that Hollande has left, things can revert to normal.

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