Six foreign leaders spoke at Nelson Mandela’s funeral today: President Obama, President Raul Castro, and the leaders of Brazil, China, India, and Namibia. President Obama shook Raul Castro’s hand as he greeted the other speakers and other guests. It’s hard to read much into this, in fact it would have been awkward to avoid the brief greeting. If it marks the beginning of a change in the relationship, so much the better, but that would take a decision on President Obama’s part, not a handshake.
Raul Castro was introduced as a representative of a people that fought for South Africa’s liberation by fighting in Angola against rebels backed by the apartheid government. He praised Mandela for ending the apartheid system, for serving as an example to Latin America and the Caribbean, and for standing up for the “conviction that dialogue and cooperation are the path to the solution of differences and to civilized coexistence between those who think differently.” For his part, President Obama took a shot at leaders who express solidarity with Mandela but “do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”
Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of the late Oswaldo Paya, says that President Obama’s handshake shows disrespect for the Cuban people.
The handshake was broadcast on Cuban television, Yoani Sanchez says.
When you go to a funeral, do you use it as an opportunity to settle scores with everyone there? That’s what two U.S. Senators think President Obama should have done at today’s state funeral in Johannesburg. Senator McCain: “Why should you shake hands with somebody who's keeping Americans in prison?” Then, “Neville Chamberlain shook hands with Hitler.” Senator Rubio: “If he was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba.”