News / Africa

    Obama-Castro Handshake Draws Attention at Mandela Tribute

    U.S. President Barack Obama greets Cuban President Raul Castro at a memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
    U.S. President Barack Obama greets Cuban President Raul Castro at a memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
    VOA News
    Tuesday's memorial service for Nelson Mandela generated some informal diplomacy and political controversy, alongside the praise for the late South African president.
     
    In a moment caught by television cameras, U.S. President Barack Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro as he walked to the podium. 
     
    The handshake was notable because the United States and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since 1961, at the height of the Cold War, and the U.S. maintains a trade embargo on Cuba.  Relations have begun to thaw in recent years.
     
    U.S. officials say the handshake was not pre-planned.  But they say the two leaders did not have a substantive discussion, they only exchanged greetings.  White House aides say the United States still has "grave concerns" about Cuba's human rights situation.
     
    Obama also exchanged greetings with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, but U.S. officials say Obama did not see the memorial service as a "venue to do business."
     
    The two leaders have been debating an agreement of a continued U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw in 2014.
     
    The United States says Karzai must sign the pact by the end of this year or there will be no choice but to withdraw all American troops after 2014.
     
    Obama is popular in South Africa, and thousands of people in the stadium cheered when his image appeared on the giant screen overlooking the field. 
     
    In contrast, South African President Jacob Zuma was booed each time his image was shown on the screen.  Many South Africans have been angered by recent accusations that Zuma spent 200 million rand ($25 million) in taxpayer money to renovate his private home.
     
    In all, more than 70 heads of state and government attended the ceremony, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and India's President Pranab Mukherjee.

    Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that South African President Jacob Zuma is accused of using $200 million in taxpayer money on home rennovations. He is accused of using 200 million rand, or $25 million dollars, to rennovate his home.
     
    Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

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    Comments
         
    by: John McAuliff from: Dobbs Ferry, NY 10533
    December 10, 2013 10:47 PM
    Presumably President Obama also shook hands with the Vice President of China where human rights are also a problem.

    If the handshake does mark the opening of a new relationship between the US and Cuba, it will be a fitting posthumous tribute to Mandela's record of reconciliation.

    Cuba is popular in South Africa because of its crucial military support. in the struggle against apartheid and its current medical assistance.

    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

    by: Fozi from: UK
    December 10, 2013 9:07 PM
    Both of them are phonies. One a Tyrannical Socialist Dictator, and the other a communist buffoon.

    by: viper4u2 from: USA
    December 10, 2013 8:09 PM
    Grave concerns about Cubas human rights situation ??. we are creating human suffering in Iran Libya .Iraq Afghanistan, Egypt & Lebanon , with trade embargoes & you worry about situations in Cuba you have got to be kidding me .Trade embargoes are an act of war against these people . Food should never be used as a weapon against anybody,don't forget how much suffering going on because of our government .

    by: Sunny Enwerem from: Nigeria
    December 10, 2013 6:28 PM
    Obama is a good man but do this world need a good man?
    In Response

    by: king from: harare
    December 11, 2013 7:51 AM
    a foreigner is always a good person coz african minds are colonised yu wl continue beggind from them praise your african leaders who are better than Obama who killed thousands if not millions in libya

    by: Elijah McWary from: Aba, Abia State, Nigeria.
    December 10, 2013 3:12 PM
    The world would be a better place if they can be more Mandelas.

    by: Baberesi Denis from: Uganda
    December 10, 2013 3:08 PM
    obama is a good student he exactly did what mandela wanted!

    by: Godswill Ebuka from: Nigeria
    December 10, 2013 1:08 PM
    The handshake shouldnt generate much noise. To err is human to forgive is divine

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