India's first bilateral visit to Cuba next week

India's first bilateral  visit to Cuba next week

Despite India and Cuba working closely as part of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), there was never any bilateral state visit from India to Cuba in the last six decades. 

The trend is finally going to be broken by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who will be the first high-ranking Indian official to visit Havana next week.

Though Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro met former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, those meetings took place in New York and New Delhi, and did not lead to any reciprocal visit from the Indian side.

Coming at a time when China is trying to make inroads into the Communist country, Ansari's visit to Havana on October 29 and 30 is an attempt to strengthen India's presence in Southern America. Before Cuba, the vice-president will also visit Peru, where he will inaugurate an Indian festival to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Lima and New Delhi.

India had written off a debt of $62 million to Cuba in 2008. Subsequently, a new credit line of $120 million was opened, out of which $12.7 million has been spent so far on a milk company, a chemical industry and an animal vaccine firm.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Havana in 2006. But that was because of a multilateral engagement (NAM summit). 

“This will be the first bilateral state visit from India,” said Dinkar Khullar, Secretary West in the Ministry of External Affairs, on Wednesday.

Ansari will arrive in Lima on October 26 along with Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways Jitin Prasada and four members of Parliament — Renuka Chowdhary, Supriya Sule, T K Rangarajan and Shashi Bhusan Mehra.

On his return trip, the vice-president will deliver a lecture titled “Citizenship and Identity” at the Oxford Centre on Islamic Studies in the UK.

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