Hollande becomes first French president to visit Cuba
By Elizabeth Pineau
HAVANA May 11 (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande is making the first visit to Cuba by a French head of state on Monday, attempting to carve out a larger role in the Communist-run nation at the time of Cuba's historic opening with the United States.
Hollande was scheduled to meet Cuban President Raul Castro, deliver a speech and participate in an economic forum in Cuba as part of his swing through the Caribbean.
Hollande previously visited Saint-Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Martinique and Guadaloupe and after leaving Cuba was scheduled to go to Haiti on Tuesday.
The French president is traveling with executives from French companies including Air France, hotelier Accor and distiller Pernod Ricard. Each of those three already operates in Cuba but they want to expand their business here with an eye to the potential end of the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.
Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced in December they would restore diplomatic ties and seek to normalize overall relations after more than 50 years of confrontation, and the two leaders followed that with a meeting at a regional summit in Panama in April.
France has always maintained relations with Cuba and is one the largest holders of Cuban debt, but the renewed opening with the United States is expected to have ramifications throughout the West.
European companies that have long done business in Cuba could have a new competitor if the United States ends the embargo. Obama, a Democrat, has asked Congress to remove it but has encountered resistance from Republicans, who control both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Hollande will also meet Cuba's Roman Catholic cardinal, Jaime Ortega, and the Cuban chapter of the Alliance Francaise, which promotes French culture abroad. Continuación...