“The Handshake,” was the proper thing to do

President Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium
President Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium

Tuesday the world came together in Johannesburg, South Africa to celebrate the life and the contributions to the planet made by Nelson Mandela. A man known for brining people together and for fighting oppression world wide.

With that as the backdrop  there was what some are just calling “the handshake.” Two world leaders who both were invited to speak at the service of a man who spent his life promoting peace and understanding.

The world saw President Barack Obama as he shook hands with Cuban President Raúl Castro during the service at which both spoke of the passing of a true leader.

Suddenly “The handshake,” brought condemnation to President Obama for his lack of regard for the people the Castro family has wronged over the years. Everyone is well aware that it has been over 50 years since the United States and Cuba have had any form of diplomatic relations.

For the record Obama shook Castro’s hand as he made his way down a line of dignitaries, including South African President Jacob Zuma and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, on his way to deliver an address honoring the late South African leader.


But those who are critical of the President need to understand that had he not shaken the hand of Raul Castro it would have been an affront to  Mandela’s memory. This was a memorial service where both President Obama and Castro were personal guests of the Mandela family, both thought highly enough by the family to speak about the fallen leader.

The Mandela family and the Castro family were friends so much so that Fidel Castro backed Mandela’s anti-apartheid efforts, and Mandela often expressed his admiration of Castro. Fidel Castro visited South Africa for a conference in 1998, years after Mandela’s release from prison and election as president.”

“The handshake,” took place at a memorial service not at a political event. Everyone attending that memorial was an invited guest and as such were celebrating the life of a true leader. For President Obama and President Castro it was simply a moment to share perhaps the only thing they have in common and is the respect for the life of Nelson Mandela.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio,  released a statement saying: “If the president was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba.”

Let’s close with this from the Christian Science Monitor:

Republican presidents have had their own greeting controversies, Richard Nixon gave a bit of a bow to Emperor Hirohito of Japan in 1971, despite the fact that Hirohito had served as his nation’s monarch in World War II.

And in 1972, Nixon shared smiling handshakes with Chinese communist dictator Mao Tse Tung. Of course, that was part of his famous visit to China, which announced an about-face in US policy toward normal relations.

Two final notes about the Castro handshake. First, Bill Clinton preceded Obama here, as he did in the Oval Office.

President Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro himself in 2000 after a United Nations luncheon in New York City. Second, perhaps Raúl Castro was listening closely to Obama’s speech on Tuesday, and was stung by a line that could well have been aimed at him.

“There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with [Mandela’s] struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people,” said Obama.

Jim Williams is the Washington Bureau Chief, Digital Director as well as the Director of Special Projects for Genesis Communications. He is starting his third year as part of the team. This is Williams 40th year in the media business, and in that time he has served in a number of capacities. He is a seven time Emmy Award winning television producer, director, writer and executive. He has developed four regional sports networks, directed over 2,000 live sporting events including basketball, football, baseball hockey, soccer and even polo to name a few sports. Major events include three Olympic Games, two World Cups, two World Series, six NBA Playoffs, four Stanley Cup Playoffs, four NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournaments (March Madness), two Super Bowl and over a dozen college bowl games. On the entertainment side Williams was involved s and directed over 500 concerts for Showtime, Pay Per View and MTV Networks.