The French-Cuban cooperation agreements encompass areas in the economy, sciences and the arts
By Pilar Montes
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.