Cuban connection runs deeper than the carnival

Cuba has established an embassy in Wellington out of admiration for New Zealand's foreign policy, says its first ambassador here.

Jose Luis Robaina Garcia says it also recognised New Zealand's history of opposition to United States sanctions against Cuba. He presented his credentials at Government House on Thursday.

Asked why it had set up an embassy in Wellington before doing so in Canberra, he said: "For us New Zealand is a very important country in the world.

"For us it was very important to establish its first embassy in this area to express our interest and gratitude to New Zealand and (because) we have admiration for New Zealand's independent foreign policy," said the former journalist-turned-diplomat. His last overseas posting was to Beijing.

It was an honour to be Cuba's first ambassador to New Zealand, though his first week in Wellington had been trying - he has had to curb his heavy pipe-smoking habit and has been troubled by the wind.

But Wellington's Cuba St and Havana Carnival gave him a sense of a strong "family feeling".

Mr Robaina Garcia said his mission was to build friendship, cultural links, cooperation and trade. New Zealand supplies 70 per cent of the milk drunk by Cubans and buys small quantities of coffee, tobacco and rum in exchange.

He also planned to establish other diplomatic links with the Pacific Islands and would explore possible aid projects cooperation with New Zealand. Twelve Cuban doctors already working in Kiribati could provide more medical assistance to other countries in the region.

New Zealand first established diplomatic links with Cuba in 1998. The Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry says relations with Cuba "have traditionally been correct but not warm".

New Zealand's ambassador to Cuba is based in Mexico. The Government has no plans to open a post in Havana.

Other diplomats to present their credentials were the Jakarta-based ambassador of Qatar, Yousef Khalifa Abdulla Al-Sada, and the Canberra-based ambassadors of Kuwait, Jamal El-Ghunaim, and Austria, Hannes Porias.

The Dominion Post