PARIS (AP) - Cuban President Raul Castro is paying an historic state visit to France as the Caribbean island opens up its economy.
PARIS (AP) — Cuban President Raul Castro is paying an historic state visit to France as the Caribbean island opens up its economy.
The trip comes after a breakthrough deal was reached in Paris in December to lighten Cuba's foreign debt — and days after France hosted the leader of another long-time pariah state: Iran.
Castro, 84, is on his first official trip to Europe since taking over from his elder brother Fidel in 2006. The Cuban president briefly stopped to Rome last year to meet with Pope Francis.
He received a formal welcome Monday at the Arc de Triomphe monument. He will attend later a state dinner with President Francois Hollande.
The Cuban delegation is also meeting French business leaders and the UNESCO chief.
The French government was instrumental in securing the debt relief deal.
In December, the Paris Club of creditor countries forgave $8.5 billion of overdue Cuban interest payments in exchange for Cuba's promise to pay off $2.6 billion in loans from developed countries over the next year and a half. France, to which Cuba owed $4 billion in overdue loans, led the creditors' negotiations.
Hollande was the first French leader to visit Cuba in a half-century, with a trip in May aimed at boosting trade.
French companies are looking for business opportunities to open up especially in tourism, transport, food and environmental industries.
Cuba has seen a touristic boom last year in the wake of the normalization of its relations with the U.S. The number of French visiting the country has increased by 30 percent in 2015 compared to previous years.
A dozen bilateral agreements are expected to be signed during Castro's visit, including one regarding Cuba's remaining debt to France, which amounts to $390 million (360 million euros).
The two countries are also hoping to develop university and scientific exchanges.