IT WAS a handshake that might yet shake the world.
When Barack Obama shook hands with Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, it was only the second time in more than 60 years the presidents of the United States and Cuba have been so cordial.
President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro, then president of Cuba, after a lunch at the United Nations in 2000. But that historic moment was not photographed and the White House initially denied it had even taken place.
When the US government did, eventually, admit that it had happened they dampened down any expectations by stating that it was Castro who first reached out his hand.
Yesterday’s handshake was prompted by Mr Obama as he made his way to the podium and was not only photographed, but seen worldwide on a live broadcast.
Since 2008, Mr Obama has sought to improve relations between the two countries by easing travel and trade sanctions as well as agreeing to send a Congressional delegation to Cuba last year.
Within minutes of the handshake taking place, the Cuban government had posted a photograph on its official website with the caption: “Obama greets Raul: may this image be the beginning of the end of the US aggression against Cuba.”
Since taking over from Fidel, his ailing brother, Raul Castro has eased up slightly on the island’s communist background and permitted small businesses to develop such as restaurants and limited stores.
However, yesterday Ted Piccone, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institute, said the handshake was unlikely to lead to any major change of policy between the two nations.
“I think it’s a nice symbolic gesture but not particularly meaningful beyond that,” he said.
“It is perhaps a signal that the White House is ready to move ahead on the next set of executive decisions that would further liberalise trade and travel links.”
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