| Cuban exiles dance in Miami after hearing Fidel Castro was ill. (AFP)
Washington, Aug. 1: India’s carefully laid plans for balance in its increasingly US-friendly foreign policy has been torpedoed by the unexpected illness of Fidel Castro and the Cuban leader’s surprise decision to temporarily transfer power to his brother, Raul.
The intestinal surgery on the world’s longest-serving head of government for “sustained bleeding” raises a question mark over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s plans to travel to Havana next month to attend a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam), at which Fidel was to have assumed leadership of the Third World movement.
The political change in Havana, which has gripped attention here and in much of the western hemisphere since the wee hours of this morning, means Prakash Karat and A.B. Bardhan, India’s Left leaders, will not travel to Cuba this month for celebrations marking the 80th birthday of the head of state, third in longevity in the world only to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Thailand’s king.
According to sources in South Block, Karat and Bardhan were to have smoothed over wrinkles in New Delhi’s ties with Havana, the most recent evidence of which was Fidel’s surprise decision to open an embassy in Islamabad.
The ministry of external affairs had hoped that any effort by Indian Marxists to pacify their Cuban comrades during their leader’s birthday celebrations over the Manmohan Singh government’s apparent acts of omission and commission would pave the way for a successful visit by the Prime Minister to Havana.
The Prime Minister is said to have been keen on personally attending the September NAM summit in order to demonstrate his government’s continued commitment to the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru and to prove that New Delhi’s new proximity to Washington would not beat the cost of its traditional values in external affairs.
There is no word from Havana yet on the fate of the NAM summit, but it is assumed that brother Raul would be keen to hold it on schedule, especially to give the impression of normality in the world’s only Communist state outside Asia.
Fidel has, however, asked Raul and his other comrades that his 80th birthday celebrations on August 13 should be postponed to December 2 to coincide with the 50th anniversary events for Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces.
By a coincidence, on the day Fidel was hospitalised, President George W. Bush was in Miami, the seat of America’s huge and resourceful anti-Castro, immigrant Cuban movement.
Bush said before the momentous announcement in Havana that “if Fidel Castro were to move on because of natural causes, we have got a plan in place to help the people of Cuba understand there is a better way than the system in which they have been living under. No one knows when Fidel Castro will move on. In my judgement, that is the work of the Almighty”.
White House spokesman Peter Watkins said today that “we can’t speculate on Castro’s health, but we continue to work for the day of Cuba’s freedom”.