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News & Events

Obama-Castro Handshake Shows Thaw in Relations With Cuba


President Barack Obama shook hands Tuesday with Cuban President Raúl Castro at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, a gesture that follows decades of estranged U.S.-Cuba relations. 

The handshake with Mr. Castro, brother of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, quickly drew attention in the U.S. as it highlights an increasing thaw with Cuba during Mr. Obama's five years in office. The freeze between Cuba and the U.S. has existed since the Cold War.

Mr. Obama has adopted policies that have eased the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and as a presidential candidate in 2008 he expressed support for warmer relations.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser for Mr. Obama, said the handshake, which occurred as Mr. Obama made his way to the podium past other leaders, wasn't planned and the two merely exchanged greetings.

Mr. Rhodes said Mr. Obama wants to improve ties between Cuban Americans and Cubans, but has grave concerns about human rights on the island. He said the U.S. wants Cuba to release Alan Gross, a U.S. development worker who has been jailed in Cuba for four years.

Mr. Obama's handshake is a ripe target for domestic criticism, particularly from some Cuban-Americans who fled the Castro regime.

Secretary of State John Kerry was confronted by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.) during a House committee hearing. "When the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raúl Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant," she said.

The Wall Street Journal