By Dr Asif Iqbal
Any reference to Cuba in India evokes the image of Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader with his unmistakable hat that has become a fashion statement for many across the world. A man of steely resolve, deep conviction and indomitable courage, Castro had said, “Something must be done to humanity, a better world is possible”. Castro was famous for making many such aphorisms on capitalism, social change, humanism, world politics and so on. Likewise, Indian icons like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Mother Teresa are hugely popular in the Cuban public psyche.
Cuba commemorates Tagore by celebrating his birth anniversary every year. This is happening after the Indian Council for Cultural Relations donated a bust of Rabindranath Tagore, which was unveiled in Havana on May 7 2007(coinciding with Tagore’s birth anniversary). The library called the Casa de Asia in Havana is named after Tagore. Busts of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa are seen in Havana. Cuba also celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, International Day of Yoga and Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary. In fact, Yoga is now a part of the Cuban government’s health curriculum. Cubans have an interest in Vipassana meditation. They also have an increasing interest in Indian naturopathy and Ayurveda.
Evidently, Cubans recognise that their lives and culture are quite similar to those in India despite the huge physical distance between the two countries. Ambassador Alejandro Simancas Marin commenting on the immense potential on People- to- people relations, said, “I would also like to stress that Cuba is a country of culture, and we are united with India by a love of music and dance; like Indians the Cubans have the ability to create and tell stories”. He suggested that they would like to strengthen the cultural cooperation; especially joint productions in the film, music and music video industries.
The Indian film industry has had positive experiences in the recent past, as the shooting of the popular James Bond-like film “Ek Tha Tiger” in Havana bore out. Indian cinema is especially admired in Cuba. Echoing the Cuban Ambassador’s comments, one of the members from the Mumbai film Industry, said, “We intend to invite the Indian Film Industry to Varadero and have them host the Annual Award function as this location offers an excellent ecosystem for film tourism.” He was a member of the business delegation I was leading between May 18 -22, 2022. The delegation was exploring opportunities for the tourism sector in the beautiful beach town of Varadero.
In my trips to Cuba including the said delegation, I found to my amazement, the Cubans keep singing and dancing on the streets. Very much like our tribals, who dance their way to work or market. They erupt in dancing on any joyous occasion, small or big, as we witnessed those spontaneous community dances in Jharkhand, Odisha and other tribal areas on the election of our new President who happens to be a tribal woman from the district of Mayurbhanj in Odisha. Of course, this time, the event was grand, solemn and historic for all of us.
Cubans live a simple life. It may sound incredible for Indians here that the Cuban Ambassador’s kid goes to Bluebell school in Delhi by bus. I found people in Cuba are happy with what they have. And they have everything they need; do not have things they do not need. They shun materialistic ways of life. This is the culture they manifest as Irish Poet Oscar Wild has famously said in his legendary essay,‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’, “The State is to make what is useful. The individual is to make what is beautiful.” Or in Cubans’ case what is joyful. Cubans are emotional as well as sentimental like Indians who consider emotions to be their social capital. They have social and economic challenges like any country including India. Yet they manage to feel at home.
I would urge Indians to explore this beautiful country with historic memories and images of struggles, perseverance and determination. Cuba became famous in the world for its socialist revolution led by Castro against the dictatorial regime of Fulgencio Batista. It also drew the attention of the world during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. However, now Cuba is a country that is on a sure path to progress. To note some of its geo-cultural specialities, Cuba has 3500 miles of coastline, 9 UNESCO world heritage sites, and the literacy rate is one of the highest in the world with 99.8 percent.
India- Cuba relations go back to 1959 after Castro took charge. He sent one of his ministers and a comrade-in-arms Ernesto Che Guevara who spent about two weeks in India meeting leaders including the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. A year later, India set up its diplomatic mission in Havana as India was one of the first countries to recognise Castro’s new regime. ‘Che Guevara’s visit ‘cemented the foundational bases for cooperation, friendship and respect that characterise today’s relations between the two countries’, remarked Ambassador Alejandro Marin.
Ever since, India and Cuba have had close political relations through host of international forum, such as the United Nations (UN), Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), World Trade Organization (WTO), etc. India has been supporting Cuba against US supported resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council and also consistently voted in favour of Cuban sponsored resolutions in the UN General Assembly calling for lifting of US sanctions against Cuba.
Likewise, Cuba supports India’s inclusion as a permanent member in the restructured UN Security Council. Also,Cuba voted in favour of India’s candidature for Non-Permanent Seat in UNSC. Cuba is a member of the International Solar Alliance, an initiative on renewable energy launched by India and France. They share a common perspective on a multi-polar world. Both countries are great friends; however these commendable political-friendly ties should lead to greater engagement in the economic and commercial field.
Augmenting trade and economic ties are precisely what we are doing in Indian Trade and Economic Organisation. I have been personally, passionately involved in Cuban affairs. I was present when the current Cuban Ambassador presented his credentials in Delhi. The delegation in May 2022 was created and conducted by me. The delegation signed a-record 7 MOUs with Cuba in order to promote bilateral commercial ties. In March this year, the Cuban Bureau was inaugurated in Hyderabad in order to develop business with Cuba. Ambassador Marin said at the inauguration, “the Bureau will become the benchmark for building commercial relations between two countries”.
It may be in order to mention that IETO is hosting and escorting the Cuban delegation (2nd to 12th August) present in India. IETO takes initiatives in the diplomatic concurrence of GOI to escort visiting Business delegations and help them explore business opportunities. It seeks to be a ‘connecter’ in India-Cuba business relations.
The author is President of Indian Economic Trade Organisation (IETO)
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