Throughout their common history, France and Cuba have forged ties of friendship and cooperation, which have strengthened since 2012 by political meetings at the highest level. The visit to Cuba of President François Hollande in May 2015 and the visit to Paris of President Raul Castro in February 2016 were historic, as no French or Cuban President had made such an official visit before that time.
These visits helped to create new momentum in our bilateral relations. Both countries built on this momentum by restructuring Cuban debt, signing a joint economic roadmap targeting a certain number of priority sectors (tourism, energy, infrastructure, health, transport and agrifood industry), opening an Agence Française de Développement office in Cuba and developing ambitious academic and scientific cooperation projects.
Recent French visits to Cuba:
- Mr François Hollande, President of the French Republic, 10-12 May 2015, for the first visit of a French Head of State to Cuba. He was accompanied by seven ministers, several members of parliament, many business leaders, and intellectuals.
- Mr Jean-Pierre Bel, Personal Envoy of the President of the French Republic for Latin America and the Caribbean, 5-7 October 2015
- Mr Matthias Fekl, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, the Promotion of Tourism and French Nationals Abroad, for the Havana International Fair, 5-7 November 2015
- Mr Alain Vidalies, Minister of State for Transport, Marine Affairs and Fisheries, 29 June-2 July 2016
- Mr Matthias Fekl and Mr Jean-Pierre Bel, 24-27 October 2016
- Ms Ségolène Royal, Minister of the Environment, Energy and Marine Affairs, responsible for International Climate Relations, and Mr Jean-Pierre Bel, for the funeral of Fidel Castro, 29 November-4 December 2016
- Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, 28 and 29 July 2018
- Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State attached to the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, 21 December 2018
Recent Cuban visits to France:
- Mr Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, July 2015.
- Mr Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Vice President of the Council of Ministers, August 2015.
- Mr Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, First Vice President of the Council of Ministers, 30 November 2015 for the opening of COP21.
- Mr Ricardo Cabrisas, November and December 2015.
- President Raul Castro Ruz for a State visit, from 30 January-3 February 2016.
- Mr Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, May 2016.
- Mr Miquel Diaz Canel, September 2017
- Mr Rodrigo Malmierca, October 2017
- Ms Elba Rosa Perez Montoya, Cuba’s Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment, November and December 2017
- Mr Rodrigo Malmierca, December 2017
- Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Minister of Foreign Relations, May 2018
- Miguel Diaz-Canel, President of the Conseil d’État and President of the Council of Ministers, 31 October 2018
- Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Vice-President of the Council of Ministers, responsible for economic and financial issues, from 21 to 23 January 2019
Cuba is the leading economy in the Caribbean (nominal official GDP of 77 billion in 2013, probably overestimated by around 10%), with a respectable level of development given the American embargo which limits its access to financing. Cuba remains dependant on its trade surplus based on several key sectors (healthcare, biotechnologies, tourism, mining), and migrant remittances. Cuba has significant need for foreign currency and struggles to meet demand. Economic growth has stalled significantly since 2013. With very low investment levels (8-10% of GDP for a need in the order of 25%), the government has been forced to speed up the implementation of sensitive structural reforms to establish credibility on the international level and restore its attractiveness including monetary unification, law on foreign investments and the creation of the Mariel Special Development Zone.
France’s bilateral trade with Cuba remains limited, even though it rebounded in 2017 following a 10% drop in 2016. In 2017, the trade balance grew 33% on 2016 increasing from €155.9 million to €208.3 million with a significant improvement in France’s bilateral trade surplus which reached €138.8 million vs €101.6 million over the same period of the previous year, an increase of 36.6%.
Financial instruments to support France’s action in Cuba play a key role in supporting the development of this bilateral trade, be they Counterpart Funds (conversion of Cuban debts into development projects for €212 million), re-opening credit insurance or the involvement of the AFD. The French banking sector continues to refuse to operate in Cuba due to fears surrounding the overseas application of the US embargo.
Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation
A joint statement on resuming bilateral cooperation was signed in Havana on 30 November 2010. The main focuses of this cooperation are as follows:
- Teaching and spreading the French language, mainly through the two Alliance Française branches in Havana and Santiago, which are the only authorized foreign cultural centres, and are especially popular (11,000 students in the capital). The Cuban authorities have provided France with a magnificent building, the Palacio Gomez, which is the new headquarters of the Alliance Française in Havana. It was inaugurated on 11 May 2015 by the French President.
- Higher education and research, including the fields of biotechnology, agronomics, the environment, medicine, exact sciences and engineering. A Hubert Curien Partnership was established in January 2017 to promote greater academic and scientific cooperation and two projects within the framework of the Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects to strengthen technical and French language teaching were given the go ahead in February 2019.
- Artistic and cultural cooperation, including the annual French film festival, which attracts up to 200,000 people. A “French culture month” is held annually in May.
Updated: 21 October 2019