India and Cuba: Old friends celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations

December 20, 2019 5:36 PM

India shares close, warm and historical relations with Cuba and both countries are founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement.

india cuba ties, Non Aligned Movement, india cuba bilateral relations, ram nath kovind, UN Security Council reform, UN General Assembly, Caribbean nationThe views of both countries on critical international issues, ranging from trade to the environment to disarmament, are similar. (Photo source: Twitter @rashtrapatibhvn )

By Alfredo Boada Mola

Cuba and India established diplomatic relations on January 12, 1960, and since then the links between both governments, states and peoples are based on the decision to defend national independence, contribute to the achievement of a more just and equitable international order, as well as to guarantee a stable and lasting peace in the world.

India shares close, warm and historical relations with Cuba and both countries are founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement. Cuba shares India’s views on UN Security Council reform. The views of both countries on critical international issues, ranging from trade to the environment to disarmament, are similar.

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Once again and as is traditional, India joined in 2019 the majority of countries from all continents that raised their voices in the UN General Assembly to demand an end to the unjust and long the economic blockade of the United States against Cuba.

The representative of the second-most populous nation on Earth, Nagaraj Naidu, recalled that every year the UN General Assembly rejects the blockade and any other form of measure that denies the principles of the United Nations.

He stressed that the continued existence of this siege contravenes world opinion, undermines multilateralism and the credibility of the United Nations. The blockade harms the Cuban people and their development efforts, he said.

Naidu asked the United States to refrain from issuing extraterritorial laws, such as Helms-Burton, chapter III of which makes it possible to sue companies and individuals who invest in nationalized properties on the island.

For the twenty-eighth consecutive time, the UN General Assembly approved the draft resolution “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”.

Washington’s blockade against Cuba appears to be the most unjust, severe and prolonged system of unilateral sanctions applied against any country.

In spite of the fact that since 1992 the UN General Assembly has approved every year a resolution calling for an end to the illegal and genocide siege, the United States government disregards the international community while maintaining and intensifying its hostile policy.

This year, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind made a visit to Cuba during an international tour in June, which also included Greece and Suriname, another reflection of the importance for New Delhi of ties with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mr Kovind arrived in Cuba on June 21, where he held talks with his Cuban counterpart, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, who visited India as the Caribbean nation’s first vice president in March 2015.

During his visit, the Indian President several MoUs and agreements in the areas of Biotechnology, Homeopathy and the traditional system of medicine and medicinal plants were signed. This was the first visit of an Indian head of state to the island which also contributed to the strengthening of bilateral links in renewable energy.

Prior to his trip to the Caribbean country, the President of India expressed his joy for his first trip to Cuba and during a sustained exchange before leaving, the Chargé d’Affaires of Havana in New Delhi, Juan Carlos Marcof wished him success in his trip and at the same time reiterated that it is a great honour to receive for the first time on Cuban soil a head of state from India, a country united to Cuba by deep historical ties of friendship and respect.

Not in vain, President Kovind began his stay in the Greater Antilles through the city of Santiago de Cuba, where he honoured the late leader of the Cuban Revolution, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro, whose remains rest in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.

A friend of the people and the leaders of India, Fidel Castro visited India on two occasions in which he met with its top leaders, in particular, Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

President Kovind had stressed in Havana that the tribute to the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, was a wonderful way to begin his trip to Cuba. He had also placed a floral offering in front of the Monument of the Cuban National Hero, José Martí, in the Revolution Square.

According to Cuban Ambassador Oscar Martinez, “Both Cuba and India have been united for many years and there is common ground in our struggles to achieve a multi-polar world.” Adding, “Both countries are great friends, but I believe that these magnificent political ties must be developed more in the economic and commercial field.”

Based on credit lines granted to Cuba by the Indian government, the installation of several plants is underway, especially in the renewable energy sector.  India provides development assistance to Cuba in various sectors, and in January 2019 made a donation of 60 tractors with accessories, medicines and medical equipment to the island. In adverse moments such as the passage of tropical cyclones, the Indian government made important donations of medicines, agricultural implements and equipment, among others.

Cuba is also a founding member of the initiative of the International Solar Alliance, which promotes India’s development of renewable energy sources throughout the world, and through which Cuba was granted a soft loan of 150 million dollars for solar projects.

Che laid the foundation for India’s fraternal relationship with Cuba

After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the Cuban-Argentinean guerrilla commander Ernesto Che Guevara travelled to India that same year as part of a Cuban diplomatic mission to several countries in Africa and Asia.

A paradigm of revolutionary combatant, doctor, minister, economist, statesman and also diplomat, Guevara’s visit to India laid the cornerstone for the future establishment of historic diplomatic relations between India and Cuba.

The legendary rebel arrived on the night of June 30 at New Delhi’s Palam Airport, now Indira Gandhi International Airport. Guevara and his fellow delegates were taken to the then newly built Ashok Hotel in Chanakyapuri, Delhi.

The next day, Che met with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Teen Murti Bhavan, the residential office of the Indian leader and both agreed to open diplomatic missions in the respective countries.

It is said that in his report to Fidel Castro, Che wrote: “Nehru received us with an affable familiarity of a patriarchal grandfather but with a noble interest in the dedication and struggles of the Cuban people, praising our extraordinary courage and showing unconditional sympathy for our cause”.

Che visited the Cottage Industries Emporium and the Okhla industrial area, where he saw some machines. He also met with Defense Minister VK Krishna Menon and senior officials from that portfolio and members of the Planning Commission.

In his walk through these places, Che also interacted with scientists from the Agricultural Research Institute and the National Physics Laboratory. During his time in Delhi, Guevara was interviewed by the national radio station All India Radio.

The story of his visit became the focus of attention when Om Thanvi, editor of the Hindu daily Jansatta, published a series of articles and photographs from that stay in 2007, which revealed an interesting history of relations between India and Cuba.

Che Guevara showed deep respect for Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha, a term that represents the method of the resistance that was largely responsible for India’s non-violent struggle during the independence movement.

After his time in Delhi, he went to spend a few days in Calcutta. However, before leaving India at the end of his two-week visit, an earthquake shook Kashmir. Following the destruction caused by the natural calamity, Guevara wrote to Nehru:

“Being aware of the terrible ravages in Kashmir, and willing to offer solidarity to the brother peoples and the government of India, we wish to make available to them the cooperation of our people, as far as possible, to alleviate the sufferings of the people of Kashmir.”

From India, Che went on to Bangladesh and Burma, before travelling to other countries in Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe. Thus, his trip to the subcontinent laid the foundation for the current relationship between India and Cuba.

On January 12, 1960, shortly after Che’s visit, India opened its diplomatic mission in Cuba. Since then, cordiality and mutual respect between the two nations have flourished.

(The author is Chief Correspondent India-South Asia Prensa Latina, based in New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)


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