10/31/13 - Zee News - Meeting with Fidel Castro highlight of visit to Cuba:
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,
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
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