The handshake took place in South Africa, but it stirred an emotional reaction far away in South Florida.
President Barack Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service – a friendly gesture that was not viewed so warmly in South Florida, with its large Cuban population.
“No, we don’t like that, to see the president of the United States shaking hands with a criminal like Raul Castro,” said one man at the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana.
“It does not surprise me, coming from him,” commented another man at the Cuban restaurant. “Am I offended? Yes.”
From Miami to a congressional hearing in Washington, Cuban-Americans reacted to Obama’s handshake Tuesday.
“Mr. Secretary, sometimes a handshake is just a handshake, but when the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raul Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant,” Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami said in the nation’s capital.
Mandela’s message was one of reconciliation – something Obama mentioned in his speech Tuesday.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio suggested in a statement that Obama could have asked Castro about the basic freedoms associated with Mandela – but denied in Cuba.
Susan Kaufman Purcell of the University of Miami Center for Hemispheric Policy indicated that she was not surprised by Obama’s gesture.
“It could be a sign, but it also is in keeping with Barack Obama’s foreign policy, which from the beginning he has made a very strong effort to try and improve relations with autocrats and autocratic regimes,” she said.