French foreign minister makes historic visit to Cuba

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Laurent Fabius has met Cuban leader Raul Castro in first visit by senior French figure to the communist-run Caribbean island in 31 years.

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France's foreign minister met with Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday during the first visit to the island by such a high-ranking French official in 31 years and a sign of the quickening pace of improving ties between the European Union and Havana, reports Voice of America.

Laurent Fabius said he discussed politics, human rights, market-oriented reforms in Cuba and bilateral relations in what he characterized as "a long conversation'' with Castro.

"We want to push forward our relations in the areas of culture, education, economics and politics,'' Fabius, a former prime minister, told reporters at the end of a one-day visit to the communist-run Caribbean country.

"Of course, we have different points of view on certain issues, which doesn't stop us from exchanging perspectives and moving forward,'' he said.

Earlier in the day, Fabius met with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, various Cabinet ministers, Cardinal Jaime Ortega and French businessmen.

Since Fabius  took office in 2012, he has tried to shift more of France's diplomatic focus toward winning contracts in markets where French firms are traditionally weak, as Paris looks to find growth opportunities overseas.

France is looking to expand its business ties with Latin America and sees Cuba as an important player in the region, given that it hosted a regional summit this year and both Brazil and Mexico are increasing their presence in the country.

"There are many French firms already here, but it's necessary that this presence is strengthened and our Cuban friends agree,'' Fabius said.