Speech by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, during the official dinner hosted by François Hollande, President of the French Republic in Élysée Palace, February 1, 2016, Year 58 of the Revolution
(Council of State transcript – GI translation)
Esteemed President François Hollande;
Ministers, parliamentarians, businesspeople, and figures from the world of culture and the arts;
Esteemed compatriots and friends of Cuba;
I am grateful for the kind words expressed by President François Hollande, and the amiable welcome you have given our delegation in this beautiful city.
For France, a special sentiment: In 1953, upon returning from a congress for the rights of youth, held in Austria, I visited this nation for the first time. Being very young when we began the struggle for our definitive independence, I took maximum advantage of the time, and even joined the May Day march that year.
Less than a year ago, we received you in Havana, where we held productive talks which allowed us to discuss, deepen, and re-launch our ties, based on mutual respect and understanding. Equally useful and cordial was our meeting this past September in New York, in the United Nations Organization headquarters.
Today, with this state visit, the first of this nature I have made to a European Union member nation, we reconfirm the very positive level of our bilateral relations.
I take advantage of this occasion to reaffirm our willingness to broaden and diversify our relations with the French Republic in all their dimensions: political, economic-commercial, financial, cooperative, academic and cultural.
We recognize your clear position denouncing the blockade of Cuba which continues, and constitutes the principal obstacle to our economic, commercial and financial relations with the world, and, in particular, with France.
France has been, is, and will be an important associate for Cuba. French companies have accompanied us in the most difficult moments, resisting extraterritorial pressures created by the unjust U.S. blockade, which has been maintained for more than 50 years, and have participated in our plans for the economic and social development of our country.
Important French companies have participated in the growing development of Cuba’s tourism sector; in the international distribution of the classic rum
Havana Club; and in the development of vaccines against infectious diseases -demonstrating the broad range of opportunities for scientific collaboration and trade in the field of research and development.
New prospects are appearing in this positive dynamic of exchanges. The Bilateral Economic Agenda, which we have just signed, must constitute an effective mechanism for the implementation of joint projects in the medium and long term.
The agreement signed on Cuba’s debt to France creates a favorable context for the development of financial, commercial and investment relations. This agreement is also the result of the leadership of France in the previous negotiations between Cuba and the Paris Club ad hoc group, for which we thank President Hollande, his government, and the other creditors.
France has played a positive leadership role supporting a better relationship between the European Union and Cuba. Given its longstanding relation with Latin America and the Caribbean, the country can continue to play an essential role in deepening ties between the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
France and Cuba can contribute to the search for solutions to the challenges facing the Caribbean region. Serving as the foundation for this must be the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by heads of state and government during the CELAC Summit in Havana in January of 2014, which recognizes the principle of unity within diversity, and the inalienable right of all states to freely choose their own political, economic, social, and cultural system,
The historic-cultural ties, and those of friendship, which united us are the product of the mutual admiration and respect shared by our peoples.
The Cuban nation has forged its identity based on aspirations for liberty and independence, and in the perennial search for the full dignity of humanity, a tradition which unites us with the historic legacy of the French revolutionaries of 1789, and their universal values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Our national anthem, La Bayamesa, was inspired by the Marseilles. Cuba has, just as France does, a heroine named Mariana, mother of the Maceo brothers, the most heroic Cuban woman of all time.
Cuba’s national shield, like the French Marianne, is crowned by a Phrygian cap, a symbol of freedom. Both national flags bear the colors red, blue and white.
In the works of our national hero José Martí, admiration for Paris is recorded. The writer Alejo Carpentier was able to describe, like no other, the echoes of the French Revolution in the Antilles. The celebrated French writer Víctor Hugo, in exile, encouraged Cubans who struggled to free themselves from the yoke of colonialism.
French culture, language and tradition are familiar to us in Cuba. There are thousands of Cubans interested in them, as a result of the collaboration we have developed through the Alliance Française, and our interest in maintaining an inter-connection with France’s vast educational-cultural universe.
We reiterate to the French people and government our solidarity and strong condemnation of the atrocious terrorist attacks which occurred in Paris last year. The people of Cuba have suffered, in our own flesh and blood, terrorism which has caused 3,478 deaths and permanently disabled 2,099 individuals, as I said in the Panama Summit of the Americas, in April of 2015, before all the heads of state and government of the continent.
I reaffirm to you our commitment to meet the new joint work objectives which we have assumed, and which mark a qualitatively superior stage in the broad spectrum of French-Cuban ties.
This next month of May, we will celebrate for the first time, a month of Cuban culture in France and French culture in Cuba, a living expression of our interest in increasing mutual understanding.
The world today needs equilibrium, understanding and peace. The relations our peoples have established, and which today both states and governments are consolidating, are the best tribute to this universal endeavor.
Allow me to conclude by extending, through you, a special greeting and our gratitude to all the French citizens and friends of Cuba who have saved a special place for our people in this great country.
Let us toast to the friendship between France and Cuba.
Thank you very much. (Applause)