President Obama shakes hands with Cuba's Castro at Mandela service
By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News
laying aside differences hardened over decades, President Barack Obama
on Tuesday shook the hand of the president of Cuba at the memorial
service for Nelson Mandela.
The handshake appeared to be the first between American and Cuban
presidents since 2000, when Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro greeted each
other at a United Nations luncheon in New York, and only the second
since 1959, when Castro took power.
It was Fidel Castro's brother, Raul, named president of Cuba in 2008, who shook Obama's hand on Tuesday.
Moments later, in a eulogy for Mandela,
Obama offered criticism of governments that embrace Mandela's legacy of
racial reconciliation but "passionately resist even modest reforms" to
fight poverty and inequality, and that imprison people for their
There are too many who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for
freedom but do not tolerate dissent from their own people," Obama said,
referring to Mandela by his clan name.
On his way to the rostrum,
Obama also shook the hand of Robert Mugabe, the strongman ruler of
Zimbabwe, and hugged Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, who has
stridently opposed spying by the National Security Agency and criticized
the U.S. government.
Leaders of almost 100 countries turned out for the service for Mandela, who died last week at age 95.
President Jimmy Carter, who was also in Johannesburg for the Mandela
service, shook hands with Fidel Castro on a visit to Cuba in 2002, long
after Carter's presidency. That trip was the first by a sitting or
former American president to Cuba since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
Obama stirred controversy with a handshake in the past. In 2009, the
president shook hands with the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez —
who called the United States "the biggest menace to our planet," among
other criticism — at the Summit of the Americas.