The photo of President Obama shaking the hand of Cuban President(only because his older brother became too ill to do the job and the family business had to continue for a few more years) Raul Castro at the funeral service for the late Nelson Mandela reopened the question of US engagement with one of the last bastions of Communism in the world.
Interestingly, Cuban-American Senator(and potential 2016 Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, had a rather even-handed response when compared to his fellow Floridian and Cuban-American, Representative Rep. Ilean Ros-Lehtinen.
In an article in the Miami New Times, Senator Rubio said, “If the president was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba. It remains clear that Cuba is the same totalitarian state today that it has been for decades. This totalitarian state continues to have close ties to terrorist organizations.”
Representative Ros-Lehtinen is quoted in the same article as calling the handshake “nauseating”.
“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,” she told Fox News.
As much as I disagree with many of our President’s political views and policies, I must say in this case the whole controversy over the handshake is, quoting from Shakespeare’s Scottish play(sorry, folks, I am writing this on Friday the 13th and I will follow the actor’s tradition of NOT mentioning the plays name out loud today), “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
There have been other examples of US Presidents shaking the hands of far worse tyrants. It is a simple matter of etiquette not a sign of friendship to shake the hand of another foreign leader at an event such as the Mandela funeral service. It will have no impact on the Obama administration’s policy towards Cuba nor the attitude in Congress to end the existing 50+ year old embargo.
The President actually did more than Jay Z did during his wedding anniversary trip to Cuba in speaking out about life in Cuba. The President in his remarks at the funeral service, moments after the encounter with Raul Castro said, “There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s(Mandela’s) legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”
Hopefully, President Castro heard these words even if Senator Rubio didn’t.