On board special aircraft: Fidel Castro is "fit and in good shape", Vice President Hamid Ansari said today after a meeting with the revolutionary icon which he described as the "highlight" of his visit to Cuba.
"When a man talks to you for 65 minutes, obviously he is fit. His health is well compared to his 87 years. He is frail, but his mental faculty is strong," he said after a rare bilateral visit to Havana by any Indian VVIP.
"I had hoped that the meeting will be of 20-25 minutes. But it lasted one hour and five minutes. (It shows Castro) is in good shape and aware of what is happening around the world. His views have been the same they were for the last five decades."
Ansari said he was informed about the meeting only yesterday morning and the Cuban leadership "crafted it well" since Castro is no longer in public life and living as a "self recluse".
The meeting was not an official engagement but a "social call". He said Castro, who is undoubtedly the leader of the Cuban revolution, talked to him about gardening and horticulture.
Speaking with reporters accompanying him as he travelled to the UK after completing visits to Peru and Cuba, Ansari said Castro was concerned about the stockpiling of weapons and dangers faced by the world due to "accidents" in such a situation.
Asked when he had last met Castro, Ansari recalled that it was in 1983 during the NAM Summit in Delhi. At the time, he was the Chief of Protocol for the event.
"The brothers coordinate themselves very well," Ansari said when he was asked about Cuban President Raul Castro, the younger brother of Fidel Castro, with whom he had a separate 75-minute meeting.
Asked about the opening up of the Cuban economy, he indicated that the Communist country would keep its own pace in liberalisation and it would be a controlled affair.
Ansari dismissed suggestions that India`s ties with Cuba would adversely affect its relations with the US, which has slapped sanctions on the country for decades.
"Our policy about Cuba is consistent. There is no ambiguity. There is no change. The US knows that we have been voting against the sanctions for 30-40 years...There is no problem," he said.
The sanctions were "unilateral" measures and not "UN sanctions" and the world community has overwhelmingly rejected them, Ansari said.
India will gift 50 buses to Cuba next year. The gesture was appreciated by the Cuban leadership, which is facing problems in running public transport, he said.
Twenty-five buses will be supplied in the first half of next year and the rest in the second half. The number of seats for Cuba in the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme have been increased from 50 to 60, Ansari said. These seats will help more Cuban students to get technical training in India.
Despite India and Cuba working closely on the Non Aligned Movement, it was a rare bilateral visit by any Indian VVIP to Havana. Only Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister made a two-day official visit to Cuba in 1985 and trips by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 and others were in connection with multi-lateral events.