Havana: Making the first-ever bilateral visit to communist Cuba by any Indian VVIP, Vice President Hamid Ansari called on revolutionary icon Fidel Castro and had a "very warm and affectionate" meeting with him.
Despite India and Cuba working closely on the Non-Aligned Movement, it is the first-ever bilateral visit by any Indian VVIP to Havana as earlier trips by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and others were in connection with multi-lateral events.
"It was a very warm and affectionate visit," Indian Ambassador Chintapally Rajasekhar told reporters after Ansari`s 65-minute long meeting with the 87-year-old leader.
Rajasekhar said Ansari wanted to personally pay his respects to the icon of social justice. The meeting reflected the warmth in the relationship between India and Cuba, two of the founding members of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM).
Castro, who has been in poor health and demitted office in July 2006, had not met with a foreign official since Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in July.
Ansari also had a 75-minute meeting with 82-year-old Cuban President Raul Castro.
Coming at a time when China is trying to make inroads into Cuba, Ansari`s visit is being seen as an attempt to strengthen India`s presence in South America.
The only Indian investment in Cuba is ONGC Videsh Limited`s search for oil in waters off Cuba`s north coast.
India had written off Cuba`s debt of USD 62 million in 2008. Subsequently, a new credit line of USD 120 million was opened, of which USD 12.7 million has been spent on a milk company, a chemical industry and an animal vaccine firm.
Meanwhile, an MoU on cooperation on broadcasting between Prasar Bharti and Cuban Radio and Television Institute was signed yesterday by Indian Ambassador Rajasekhar and Vice President of the institute Emillio Moises Garcia Borroto.
After concluding a "landmark" tour of Peru during which four agreements were signed, Ansari arrived in Cuba yesterday.
Soon after his arrival, Ansari inaugurated a Festival of India that began with "Nrityaroopa", a fusion of six classical dances, greeted with applause from thousands of Cubans.
He also held delegation level talks with Cuban leaders.
The Vice President also visited the Biotechnology Centre here, where he hailed the "pioneering work" done by it and underlined "immense possibilities" for cooperation between the two countries in the area.
Earlier in the day, Ansari visited the Revolution Plaza to place a wreath at the Jose Marti Memorial.
"The Memorial gives an excellent account of Jose Marti`s struggle for freedom. It symbolises the success of the Cuban revolution and its ideals of justice and equality," he wrote in the visitor`s book.