Obama-Castro handshake – a sign of Mandela-like reconciliation?

 

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets Cuban President Raul Castro before giving his speech at the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela Tuesday. Credit: Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets Cuban President Raul Castro before giving his speech at the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela Tuesday. Credit: Reuters

For sure it’s just what Mandela would have wanted, but does it amount to more than that?

The historic handshake between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro at a memorial for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday was greeted on the streets of Cuba with surprise and hopes of improved relations.

Reaction was more muted in Miami, where Cuban exiles have had a hard time accepting Mandela’s respect for Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Castro’s smile as Obama moved to shake his hand on the way to speak at the ceremony was seen by many Cubans as a signal of reconciliation, after more than a half-century of bitter ideological and political differences between the two countries whose shores are separated by only 90 miles.

“I never imagined such a thing could happen,” said Yesniel Soto, a 25-year-old government worker.

“I see it as something that has begun to change, a change we are all hoping for,” Soto said Tuesday morning on her way to work in Havana.

The two presidents’ civil behavior towards one another was just the latest sign of a change of tone in the usually hostile rhetoric between the two governments.

Officials on both sides have spoken of a new gravity and pragmatism in their dealings with one another. And last month in Miami, Obama recognized for the first time Castro’s efforts to reform the Soviet-Style economy, adding that U.S. policy, which includes long-standing economic sanctions, was outdated.

The handshake was not planned, and the two did no more than exchange greetings, a White House aide said.

“Perhaps the American and Cuban presidents grasp, with this handshake, that the work they have to do together is far easier than South Africa’s struggle against apartheid,” said Julia Sweig, director for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“It can’t hurt, but it’s not significant,” said Philip Peters, founder of the Cuba Research Center, and author of The Cuban Triangle blog.

“What matters is whether President Obama will conduct relations as he does with all other countries that have different political systems. That requires a decision, not a handshake,” Peters added.

Cuban state-run television broadcast Tuesday’s pressing of the flesh without commentary, simply as part of the footage of Castro’s speech at the tribute in South Africa.

There has been no official comment on the encounter, but official blogger Yohandry Fontana played up the historic event, tweeting a photo of the handshake.

Cuban exiles down-played the greeting, the first between sitting presidents of the two countries since 2000.

“The handshake was unfortunate, but unavoidable and inconsequential,” said Mauricio Claver-Clarone, director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington, which promotes human rights.

“Much more important were Obama’s words, which I believe were directed at Castro,” he added, referring to the U.S. president’s speech at the event.

“There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people,” Obama said, using Mandela’s clan name.

Mandela was famously snubbed by Cuban exiles in Miami in 1990, when he visited the city after making comments in support of Fidel Castro.

Miami’s Cuban-American mayor Xavier Suarez declined to honor Mandela with a proclamation or the keys to the city, prompting a 3-year boycott of Miami led by African-American business and community leaders.

During Mandela’s 27 years or incarceration, Castro was a leading voice against apartheid when other world leaders were reluctant to speak out.

A letter signed by five Miami area mayors said Mandela’s support for the Cuban leader, as well as Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gaddafi, was “beyond reasonable comprehension.”

The only previous known handshake between U.S. and Cuban presidents since the 1959 revolution was in 2000 at the United Nations, when, in a chance encounter, Fidel Castro shook the hand of President Bill Clinton. That handshake, however, was not recorded for posterity as it took place out of sight of cameras.

While still U.S. vice president, Richard Nixon was photographed with Fidel Castro shortly after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, almost a full decade before becoming president. Jimmy Carter also met both Fidel and Raul Castro after leaving the White House.

In the context of Nelson Mandela as a peacemaker, Cuba’s Catholic Church took note of the significance of the Obama-Castro handshake.

“One hopes that the example of Mandela continues being an inspiration to move further than a formal gesture like this, since Barack Obama and Raul Castro have said a number of times in their own ways that now is the time to change the style of the relations between Cuba and the United States,” spokesman Orlando Marquez told Reuters.

 



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Movies

Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

U.S. Soccer

Orlando City takes shot at NYCFC over Frank…

Orlando City reminded the world how big a signing Brazilian star Kaka earlier this month with a photo of Kaka mobbed by fans juxtaposed against Lampard.

NBA

Jeremy Lin says 'Linsanity' is over as he…

Jeremy Lin lit up the NBA two years ago with his play for the Knicks but he has no desire to recreate "Linsanity" in his new career with the Lakers.

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.