It was the handshake heard ‘round the world. At the memorial service for Nelson Mandela President Obama shook the hand of Cuban President Raul Castro. It set ideologues teeth on edge and set the Twitter-verse afire. “How could Obama do that? It proves everything we’ve said about him all along.” Which is what, exactly?
Some wrote that it proved he is a communist, that he is a capitulator. It proves none of these things.
The handshake took place in front of millions of people—those in the stadium where the service took place as well as television viewers around the world. A memorial service for one of the world’s most respected leaders is not a place for politics or foreign intrigue.
Many people were apoplectic when Obama telephoned Iranian President Rohani on his way back to Tehran. That short phone call brought Iran back to the six-nation talks to negotiate that country’s nuclear program.
America has had a troubled history with Cuba for more than half a century. Diplomatic ties were cut after Raul’s brother, Fidel, took over the country and turned the country into a communist bastion in the western hemisphere.
Without the backing of its former patron, the Soviet Union, Cuba doesn’t seem to be such a threat in the region. Due to 50-year old embargoes many Cubans are still driving cars from the 1950s; the people of that island country have made a life for themselves—not a life we Americans would recognize, but a life nonetheless.
A conservative anti-communist president once opened the door to diplomatic relations with what was then known as Red China.
That handshake at a memorial service in South Africa for a man of tolerance, peace and understanding should lead to an opening with Cuba.