January 18, 2016 / 4:17 PM / 2 years ago

Cuba's Raul Castro to visit France on Feb. 1

Cuba's President Raul Castro attends an official welcoming ceremony for him, at the Yucatan State Government Palace in Merida, Mexico November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Henry Romero

PARIS (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro next month will make the first visit to France by a Cuban head of state since his brother in 1995 as he tries to carve out a larger role for the Communist-run nation since improving ties with the United States.

French President Francois Hollande in May became the first Western president to visit Cuba in more than 50 years and has been positioning his country to capitalize on the thaw in relations.

France was Cuba’s main creditor and last month as part of a deal between Cuba and the 15 rich creditor nations of the Paris Club it agreed to annul $4 billion in debt.

Confirming the visit on Feb. 1, Hollande’s office said “it marked a new stage in the strengthening of relations between the two countries.”

Around 60 French companies operate in Cuba including construction group Bouygues, drinks group Pernod Ricard and hotels specialist Accor.

Reporting By John Irish Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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