France's Hollande salesman extraordinaire


© REUTERS/ Enrique de la Osa

French President Francois Hollande touched down in Havana this week proclaiming it a historic moment as the first Western leader to visit isolated Communist Cuba.

Hollande said it was an "emotional occasion" to witness the "opening up of Cuba". His visit, which will include meetings with Cuban President Raul Castro, follows a "historic handshake" last month between America's Barack Obama and the Cuban leader in neighbouring Panama.

That meeting with Obama was hailed as the moment that Cuba "came in from the cold". It was reported as marking the end of decades of economic isolation imposed by Washington on the Caribbean socialist state. The American president followed through on promises to remove Cuba from America's terror blacklist. He has also overseen the partial lifting of travel and financial restrictions.

However, the main planks of the US trade embargo on Cuba remain in place. That economic blockade of the island country has been in place for over 50 years since 1961. It has been internationally denounced as an unwarranted act of aggression on a population of some 11 million whose only "crime" is that they have had a socialist government since the Cuban revolution in 1959 — led by Raul Castro and his elder brother Fidel.

So does Hollande's visit this week herald the much-anticipated "opening up of Cuba"? It rather depends on what is meant by "opening up".

Onboard the French leader's presidential jet to Cuba were some 80 French business executives, which indicates what the priority and purpose of the "historic visit" is really about.

Hollande's intention is less about helping to restore Cuba's normalisation with the rest of the world — after decades of American domination — than it is about opening up opportunities for French capitalism. He said he was visiting Cuba "not of the past but of the future". In other words, let's not dwell on ongoing historic injustices against the Cuban people by an American aggressor and let's just get on with the business of making money.

Forget about ethics and solidarity. The French move on Cuba is more predatory opportunism than anything to do with political principles or helping Cuba to avail of overdue reparations for decades of Western kowtowing to American tyranny against that nation.

Of course, many Cubans are glad to welcome French and Western business after decades of deprivation imposed by the Washington.

But the point here is that caution is deserved about what future is being "offered" to Cuba. Will its immense achievements in social development, healthcare and education — despite the US stranglehold — be demolished as a price for doing business? Will it be turned into a capitalist playground of poverty and vice that it once was under the US-backed Batista dictatorship before he was kicked out?

French hotels, drinks companies and tourist businesses are gagging to get into Cuba. As are the British and the Americans. France also sees Cuba as an investment gateway to the rest of the Caribbean and South America. The lure of cheap labour, sweat-shops, rich Western tourists and poolside rum cocktails are some of the "comparative advantages".

Hollande is the personification of how Western politicians have become nothing more than debased salesmen, not statesmen. Making grubby profits for the corporate aristocracy is what motivates the likes of Hollande.

Apart from his visit to Cuba, the French leader also travelled to the former Caribbean colony island of Guadeloupe, where he unveiled a giant monument to commemorate the African slave trade. Hollande's speech mingled apparent French remorse for its participation in that historic crime with chauvinist references to how "great" modern France is. When asked if France would come forward with financial compensation for its former colonies and descendants of slaves, Hollande baulked at that idea. No, France would only "compensate" by "furthering the cause of human freedom". Vive La PR!

Last week, Hollande showed off his dubious PR skills and unscrupulousness by smooching with the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf dictatorships. It was yet another "historic" moment for the French president who could claim to be the first Western leader invited as guest of honour at the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The main purpose of Hollande's visit to the oil-rich sheikhdoms was to clinch multi-billion-euro deals for French aviation manufacturer Dassault. He signed contracts with Qatar worth euro 6.3 billion for 24 Rafale fighter jets and received promises from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for future mega-sales.

"This shows France is a reliable country which partner countries can trust," said Hollande. Try telling that to Russia which France has tried to screw over the euro 2 billion Mistral contract on the basis of trumped-up NATO allegations of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

While the French leader was toasting his Arab despot hosts, the Saudi-led GCC was continuing its aerial bombardment of Yemen. That blitzkrieg on the Arab region's poorest country has clocked up six weeks of continuous bombing and thousands of civilian casualties. Civilians infrastructure has been decimated by Saudi warplanes pounding the country day after day in an obscene carnival of mass murder.

Saudi claims of "restoring security" to Yemen after a rebel uprising booted out a US, Saudi-backed puppet-president are risible. The military blockade of Yemen by the US-coordinated, Saudi-led bombing has placed 80 per cent of the country's 24 million population in dire humanitarian hardship.

Hollande didn't dwell on that outrageous violation of international and humanitarian law in Yemen. He was far too busy garnering the signatures of Arab despots for the sale of French warplanes.

No sooner had the ink dried and Hollande was then off to the sunny Caribbean to sign up more French business contracts.

The only thing "historic" about Hollande's global touring is the historic lowness of Western leaders.