India’s vice president, Hamid Ansari, will visit Cuba as part of a five-day state visit to Latin America later this week, according to reports in Indian media. Ansari, who will be accompanied by a minister of state of the Indian government, four MPs and other officials, will depart on Friday for Peru and arrive in Havana, where he is expected to meet with President Raul Castro, on Oct. 29.
Dinkar Khullar, Indian secretary in the Ministry of External (Foreign) Affairs, said that the two nations will discuss joint projects related to biotechnology and even sports. “We [already] have Cuban coaches [in India], notably in the field of boxing. We will see how this can progress,” he added.
Ansari’s visit comes seven years after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh traveled to Cuba. Both India and Cuba are prominent members of the global non-aligned movement.
Earlier this year in May, Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parilla, spent three days in Delhi, where he met with Ansari as well as Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid. The Cuban government characterized those talks as “warm and friendly” and discussed potential cooperative endeavors in agriculture, pharmaceuticals and tourism as well as increased bilateral trade.
In the meantime, India is planning to deliver something more mundane to Cuba: buses, to help with the small country’s public transportation crisis. “Indian-made buses traveling down the streets of Havana will serve as a visible daily reminder to our friends in Cuba and the region of the ties our nations have shared, and of what a future of collaboration could hold,” a senior Indian official told Telegraph India. (Cuba has also purchased hundreds of buses from China).
Moreover, in 1992, India delivered 10,000 metric tons of rice and wheat each to Cuba to relieve severe shortages on the island nation. Fidel Castro praised the act, calling the food aid the “bread of India.” Now in 2013, India will initially provide 25 buses to Havana, and later deliver hundreds more.
India has enjoyed warm relations with Cuba for more than a half century -- indeed, Delhi and Beijing were among the first few foreign states to recognize Fidel Castro’s Communist state shortly after he overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista. Cuba’s ties with China soured as a result of the Moscow-Beijing split in the 1960s, while India maintained close links to Havana. However, India-Cuba trade has declined over the past 20 years -- from $300 million in the early 1980s to less than $30 million in 2011. Meanwhile, China has dramatically increased trade with the Castro regime, making Beijing the island’s second-biggest trading partner, behind Venezuela. “We need to focus more on Latin America and we are doing that,” minister Khurshid told reporters.
Separately from trade and politics, India hopes to introduce Cuba to its own culture by screening films in Havana starring three of Bollywood’s biggest stars, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, coincident with Ansari’s visit. “We have contacted the producers and asked them to arrange for Spanish subtitles,” said a senior official of India’s culture ministry. Indian classical dance, poetry and food will also be featured at the Havana festival. "We want to show the Cuban public the colorful splendor of various manifestations such as visual arts, film, dance and cuisine," said C. Rajasekhar, India’s ambassador to Cuba.
India’s foreign ministry estimates that the Indian community of Cuba comprises 25 nuns who work for the Missionaries of Charity, six medical students and two Indian nationals who married to Cubans. There are also a few descendants of Indians who settled in Cuba more than 100 years ago.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.