THINGS have come a long way since the Cuban revolution in 1959. As soon as Fidel Castro came to power, India under Nehru was among the first countries to recognise Cuba, outside the then communist bloc. The Cubans responded by opening one of their first diplomatic missions in Asia in New Delhi. India too opened its mission in Havana. Cuba applied for NAM membership and was immediately admitted, adding a new dimension to relations between the two countries.
In the decades that followed, the two nations maintained excellent ties. Castro's equation with Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were very good, notes Olga Chamero Trias, Cuba's ambassador to India.
These relations changed dramatically after the Cold War. Both India and Cuba lost their international crutch—the Soviet Union. Earlier, bilateral trade was not subject to international hard currency regimes. With India going in for a floating exchange rate, the bottom dropped out of Indo-Cuba economic ties.
The ties were tested for the first time when the Cuban foreign minister specially flew down to New Delhi in 1992 to ask for 10,000 tonnes of rice on long term credit. The Americans were opposed to the sale but Prime Minister Rao finally cleared it despite pressures.
If more evidence of change is required, India's silence over the airplane row provides it. The Helms-Burton Bill has queered the pitch further. India will have to contend with its pernicious provisions—it naturally doesn't want to annoy the US. But it will find it hard to escape criticism that it's letting down an old, trusted friend.