The ministry of external affairs is now focussing on closer Latin America ties, and the upcoming visit of President Ram Nath Kovind to Cuba and Suriname is a step in this direction.
“It is also build up from the attention the Government of India and the MEA has been giving to the Latin American region,” said Partha Satpathy, joint secretary for Latin America and Caribbean, at a press briefing. “The vice president had already visited three countries in Latin America. The MoS also visited a couple of countries in Latin America. Now, the president is going to visit Suriname and Cuba,” he said, adding that from here on, the frequency of high-level visits to Latin American countries will be sustained till the end of the year.
In fact, the region remained largely Modi-visit free. In 2016, Modi chose not to go to Venezuela to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit, making him the first Indian prime minister in the history to miss the event.
When asked why India's engagement with Latin America was only limited to a few countries, Satpathy said, “Visiting some countries in Latin America does not exclude the other countries....Engagement with Brazil has always been intense. It continues under the platform of BRICS and IPSA and we will see more of it....G20 interactions will take place in Argentina and the prime minister might visit the country in November. So, this visit has been kind of decided, as I said, with the focus on Indian diaspora in the Caribbean region and therefore an expression of how closely we are paying attention to the critical area.”
With China exerting its power in the region by doling out dollops of economic assistance, India needs to step up its engagement. There are historical links, especially with countries like Suriname and Cuba, that need to be fostered and encouraged. Latin America is also important for India in terms of energy security. The ministry's move of choosing to foster ties through soft diplomacy is indeed a step in the right direction.
Yoga is a major export to these countries. President Kovind participating in the Yoga Day celebrations in Suriname, with his counterpart Desire Delano Bouterse stretching by his side, is sure to strike the right chord.