“Castro, he’s shaking hands with Raúl Castro,” said an excited Christiane Amanpour.
“As Christiane points out, President Obama just shook hands with Raúl Castro from Cuba,” Chris Cuomo explained.
Amanpour says of Mandela, “This is a man, it is so true, who brought people together in life and he continues to bring people together today.”
In Cuba, today’s handshake between leader Raúl Castro and US President Barack Obama was a non-event.
That’s because official state TV and Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s official newspaper, omitted the salutation from its coverage of former South African President Nelson Mandela’s memorial ceremony.
While the handshake quickly went viral, lighting up media sites worldwide, Cuban blogger Yaoni Sánchez was quick to point out on Twitter that government-controlled TV stations failed to even show the encounter, much less hypothesize what it symbolizes for Cuba-US relations.
If Cuba’s press ignored the handshake, should we also be wary of staring too hard at the tea leaves?
American presidents should avoid shaking the hand of dictators, especially those that have American blood on theirs. One example of many: Raul Castro was Minister of Defense in 1996 when Cuban Air Force MiGs, cold-bloodedly and over international airspace, destroyed two civilian U.S. airplanes with four American rescue workers on board. President Clinton rightly condemned the attack as cowardly, while Raul Castro decorated his pilots for bravery. That incident alone illustrates the difference between the two systems that are embodied in the two leaders. President Obama seems unaware of the importance of his office or of the mantle of honor he wears as the leader of the world’s oldest democracy and the liberator of nations. There is no moral equivalence between the leader of the free world and the leader of a morally bankrupt military dictatorship that holds power only by force…
Until now, every American president had studiously avoided this mistake: At U.N. and other gatherings U.S. Secret Service agents and diplomats were under orders to make sure such a “photo op” so highly desired by the Castros did not happen.
With his greeting, President Obama has squandered U.S. prestige and honor.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, walked out of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela when Cuban “President” Raúl Castro began speaking.
“Senator Cruz very much hopes that Castro learns the lessons of Nelson Mandela,” said Sean Rushton, Cruz’s communications director. “For decades, Castro has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents. Just as Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Castro should finally release his political prisoners; he should hold free elections, and once and for all set the Cuban people free.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) declined to criticize President Obama for shaking hands Tuesday with Cuban President Raul Castro at a memorial service in South Africa Tuesday for Nelson Mandela.
But the senator suggested that Obama should have lingered a little longer.
“I’m more focused on policy than some moment, but I thought that if he was going to be there and he was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about these basic freedoms that Mandela is associated with that are systematically denied in Cuba,” Rubio told reporters.
“Mr. Secretary, sometimes a handshake is just a handshake, but when the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raul Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Castro uses that hand to sign the orders to repress and jail democracy advocates.”
“Could you please tell the Cuban people living under that repressive regime that, a handshake notwithstanding, the U.S. policy toward the cruel and sadistic Cuban dictatorship has not weakened?” she asked.
“Ladies and gentlemen, today is about honoring Nelson Mandela,” Kerry later responded. He added that Obama urged all of the world’s leaders to honor Mandela’s legacy by upholding “basic human rights.”
“And would you say Raul Castro is upholding basic human rights?” Ros-Lehtinen interjected.
“No,” Kerry replied. “Absolutely not.”
The idea that a president who has been re-elected already (with the votes of South Florida!) would suffer from a Raúl Castro handshake is sort of outdated. Every year, Gallup asks Americans what they think of various countries, and Cuba’s steadily been inching up from the bottom…
It probably doesn’t hurt that the bland Raúl has replaced Fidel Castro as head of state. Nor does it hurt that Cuba hasn’t posed any kind of threat to the United States since Barack Obama was a tot. Two countries currently run by governments we installed are far less popular than Cuba; Saudi Arabia, which is basically an ally, is only just as popular as our communist neighbor to the south.
The George W. Bush administration had tightened the embargo and increased travel restrictions, but soon after assuming office in 2009. And as CFR notes, “He went further in 2011 to undo many of the restrictions imposed by the Bush administration, thus allowing U.S. citizens to send remittances to non-family members in Cuba and to travel to Cuba for educational or religious purposes.”
Cuba, too, is changing, as this story on NPR’s Morning Edition by by Nick Miroff notes. Raul Castro has introduced modest changes to a country cossetted for decades by a socialist economic model. Obama has acknowledged these changes…
Carl Meacham of the Center for Strategic and International Studies calls it a “symbolic gesture [that] could signal … maybe the beginning of a more substantive set of policies.”
But Jorge Duany, who directs the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University, says none of the issues separating the U.S. and Cuba will be resolved by a handshake alone. “But at least it’s a healthy sign of what the future may bring to the two countries and to some kind of re-establishment of relations between the two governments,” he says.
When Bolling defended the topic by saying it has also been discussed on CNN, and asked why Obama couldn’t just skip over the Cuban leader as he approached the podium to deliver his eulogy, Beckel shot back, “What do you think, he’s going to catch Communism by shaking hands?”