Fidel Castro and Sukarno: What’s The Story Behind The Pictures?

In light of the news of Fidel Castro’s death, we look back on Indonesia’s connection to the now deceased Prime Minister whose pictures with First President Sukarno have taken Indonesian internet by storm. But what is the story behind these pictures? It's a story of two countries, but more than ever it's a story about an historical friendship. 

Many of the photos we see between Fidel Castro and President Sukarno were actually taken in Havana, the capital city of Cuba in 1960. However, the relationship between the two countries actually started a year earlier when Che Guevara met with Sukarno first. 


6 months after the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro sent Che Guevara, Castro’s revolutionary right-hand-man, to visit 14 countries, most of which were part of the Bandung Conference. 

The Bandung Conference in 1955 was the first large scale conference of Asian and African countries. Many of the countries (including Indonesia) were newly independent, as WWII had ended and many allied nations gave up their colonies. These countries wanted to band together against colonialism and Cuba obviously wanted the same. 

It was during this trip that Che Guevara landed in Jakarta and met President Sukarno; they discussed Indonesia’s revolution, potential trade, and of course their views on western imperialism. Che even visited Borobudur! But it was during this visit that Che invited President Sukarno to visit Havana and meet Fidel Castro.


in 1960, President Sukarno landed in the Cuban capital, where all the famous pictures you may have seen (presented below) were taken. During the visit, Sukarno presented Castro with a Keris, but the most striking thing is of course how friendly the two are with each other. 

Is it of any surprise though?

Both Castro and Sukarno had shared beliefs and experiences. They both lived under oppressive country rule (Cuba under US-backed dictator Batista, and Indonesia under the colony of the Dutch), they both led revolutions and finally led their countries to independence. Also, it would be fair to say that Sukarno held ‘leftist’ beliefs, though not as strong as Castro’s, another thing thing that they could share in. 

This was the start of the Cuban-Indonesian bilateral relations, which to this day have not ended. 



Upon Sukarno’s “downfall” via coup d’etat, President Suharto took power. Suharto, who was responsible for destroying Sukarno’s left-leaning politics and also the PKI Communist Party, held many opposing views to Fidel Castro. With his New Order, Suharto was a pro-Western, pro-capitalist leader. 


President Abdurrahman Wahid, otherwise known as Gus Dur, was perhaps the last president to have an exchange with the late Cuban Prime Minister. 

On a visit to Havana for a Group-77 conference (1996), Fidel Castro made a surprise visit to Gus Dur just before he left the country.  Gus Dur was 1 of 4 heads of state that Castro personally visited, out of a total of 47 who were there. Perhaps he longed for a small taste of his old friendship with Sukarno. Who knows. (Read the actually quite funny full story on the visit here.)



Cuba and Indonesia continue a long relationship that started between Che, Castro and Sukarno. Today they cooperate in the Group-77, Non-Aligned Movement, bilateral trade and also on health and sports cooperatives. 

You just can't help but notice the irony of the relationship though: a country that has a such dark past with communism (1965) continues their bilateral deals with a communist regime with its own dark past. A country in which the mention of PKI beckons suspicious glares, but the local teenagers continue to hang posters of 'legendary Che' on their walls in a bid to be part of cool sub-culture.

But perhaps none of that matters; maybe we in 'sentimental Indonesia' just can't help but continue a history of friendship that started long ago between two men who envisioned brighter futures for their countries. In the picture below, Castro holds and cherishes the magical Keris Sukarno gave to him many years before...