“I wanted to experience this historical moment. It is the history of Cuba and of the world! Fidel Castro wanted to meet me and I also desired it. Regardless of what one thinks about what he has done, he belongs to History. I also wanted to meet him out of respect for the Cuban people.” With these words, French President Francois Hollande commented to reporters before his meeting on Monday with the Cuban president in Havana.
Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal, who is accompanying him on the first trip to the island by a French head of state, described Fidel Castro as character who is “mythical, beyond politics.”
During the meeting, which the French authorities kept secret until the last minute, Hollande and Castro addressed issues such as the “blockade” and its consequences for the island. The president, who transferred power to his brother Raul in 2006, spoke also of the need to avoid “war.” Hollande, for his part, said he was “surprised that he was so informed on current issues” and that he was so interested in food issues.
At the meeting, however, there was no talk of human rights, despite that fact that in 2003 Holland, then first secretary of the French Socialist Party, published in the newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur an opinion which he expressed his outrage at the “wanton brutality of the Castro regime.”
“That was 12 years ago,” the French president justified himself, and today Fidel Castro “is an old man.” He added in response to a question from the French journalists, “You can’t say: well now, you be held accountable before the tribunal of history.”
“I told him that I knew what his place in history would be and that one part of the French had looked at the Cuban Revolution at times with fervor and others with criticism.”