Hollande plans first-ever visit by French president to Cuba

President Francois Hollande (above) will visit Cuba on May 11 in the first-ever such visit by a French head of state, the French presidency announced on Tuesday. -- PHOTO: EPA
President Francois Hollande (above) will visit Cuba on May 11 in the first-ever such visit by a French head of state, the French presidency announced on Tuesday. -- PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - President Francois Hollande will visit Cuba on May 11 in the first-ever such visit by a French head of state, the French presidency announced on Tuesday.

The trip is also set to be the first by a Western leader since the United States and Cuba announced their historic rapprochement on Dec 17.

Mr Hollande's "visit to Cuba on May 11 will constitute the first visit by a French head of state to this country," the presidency said in a statement.

The European Union and Cuba will resume in March negotiations aimed at normalising their ties, after the steadfastly communist country ended its nearly six decades in isolation.

The hope is that within the coming months, Cuba and the US will agree to reopen embassies in each others' capitals and appoint full-fledged ambassadors.

Currently, they operate through so-called interests sections in Havana and Washington.

Mr Obama has also called on the US Congress to lift the decades-old biting economic embargo of Cuba.

But some US lawmakers - as well as parts of the Cuban dissident community - remain wary of the diplomatic demarche, arguing Mr Obama has failed to secure guarantees about progress on human rights.

As part of Mr Hollande's trip, he is also to make stops on the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

During the visit to Martinique, the French leader will preside over a regional summit on climate change.