India has joined the world in welcoming the restoration of diplomatic relations between the once arch adversaries, the US and Cuba, after a gap of 54 years, a defining step that will also lead to an acceleration of relations between New Delhi and Havana.
The historic deal between the US and Cuba, which had frozen ties since Washington imposed a trade embargo on Havana in 1954, has elicited praise from leaders around the world. The embargo has still not been lifted as it is the prerogative of the US Congress, which is now dominated by the Republicans.
US President Barack Obama candidly acknowledged that the “rigid and outdated policy” of isolating Cuba since had not worked and that it was time for a new approach.
The rapprochement between the US and Cuba got a thumps up from around the world. Pope Francis joined leaders from Latin America and Europe in lauding the historic deal, with the EU welcoming it as a “historical turning point.”
New Delhi, which has consistently maintained and nurtured diplomatic relations, with Havana, a kindred fellow-traveller in the Non-Aligned Movement, has promptly welcomed the historic move by the US. “India, which enjoys excellent relations with the United States of America and the Republic of Cuba welcomes the decision by both the countries to re-establish diplomatic relations,” said Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry, said in New Delhi on December 18.
India’s Vice-President Hamid Ansari travelled to Havana more than a year ago and underlined India’s intent to scale up bilateral relations with Cuba, an oil-rich Caribbean country that holds the presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), an influential group of 33 countries in the region.
The removal of trade embargo, when it happens, will also lead to an upswing in economic ties between India and Cuba. Bilateral trade is almost insignificant at just $40 million, largely on account of logistical difficulties arising out of the US sanctions on Cuba. However, the bonding and solidarity between Delhi and Havana has been strong. India wrote off US$ 62 million debt in 2008 and extended a line of credit of US$ 120 million to Cuba, of which at present US$ 12.7 million has been utilised for three projects, including a milk powder plant, a chemical bulk blending plant, and modernisation of an animal vaccine plant.
India is looking to leverage Cuban expertise in the kindred areas of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Energy is another important focus area. India’s oil and gas major OVL has been granted eight offshore oil blocks in Cuba and has already invested US$ 130 million in the project.
Indian culture has a special fascination for the Cuban people, known for their joie de vivre, special talent for sports and love of dancing and singing. Yoga is not only widely practiced by Cubans, but forms part of the health curriculum in schools. Havana is one of the few cities sports a bust of Mahatma Gandhi and sage-poet Rabindranath Tagore. The House of Casa (Casa de Asia) in Havana has found a loyal following among Cubans who never miss, film shows and talks on India.
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