Obama & Castro Shake Hands At Mandela’s Memorial
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro set aside differences and shared the stage at the memorial service for the late Nelson Mandela Tuesday.
The two presidents met on stage and shook hands as both were among multiple foreign dignitaries who spoke at the service.
The greeting between Obama and Castro lasted only a few seconds, but it sparked debate around the world. In Miami’s Little Havana, the handshake did not go down well with the strong Cuban coffee served at the Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho.
“It’s no secret that Obama admires Castro and wants to re-establish relations with the dictator,” said Miguel Saavedra. “To see them on television shaking hands is sickening.”
“We don’t agree with reconciliation when it comes to Castro, who is a criminal, and the president of the United States,” said Sergio Rioseco.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio took a political shot at Obama for shaking hands with Cuba’s President. “IF he (Obama) was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba.”
Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) used even harsher language.
“When the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of Raul Castro it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant,” Ros-Lehtinen said while holding up a photograph of the handshake.
The handshake is not the first time a presidential greeting has come under the microscope. In 2000, President Bill Clinton was photographed shaking hands with Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the United Nations. And in 2009, President Obama raised eyebrows when he was pictured shaking the hand of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a staunch U.S. opponent.
While the handshake has gotten much attention, it does not necessarily signal a warming of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. At least one Latin American scholar believes the president was simply following proper protocol at the funeral for Mandela.
“The South Africans were controlling the situation,” said Frank Mora, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. “Raul Castro is the head of government it would have been very difficult to try to position and would have been the news if the president’s handlers insist Raul Castro sit somewhere else and that would have been the news.”