Obama Shakes Hands With Raúl Castro. Let’s All Freak Out.

How It Works
Dec. 10 2013 10:20 AM

Obama Shakes Hands With Raúl Castro. Let’s All Freak Out.

454771277
President Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raúl Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium on Dec. 10, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

People on both sides of the debate are already making a bit too big a deal about this, but President Obama stopped briefly to shake hands with Raúl Castro at Nelson Mandel’s funeral this morning. It’s already getting the full Drudge siren treatment, and Breitbart’s John Nolte calls it “more than a little unsettling.” CNN's Chris Cuomo, meanwhile, described it on CNN's live broadcast as "about something bigger ... about forgiveness and reconciliation."

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Anyone who sees this as an outrage should probably keep in mind that shaking hands with leaders who repress their own people is part of what presidents do—all presidents.

Advertisement

America’s 50-year-old Cuba embargo is clearly badly in need of a rethink. But I’d also be cautious about casting this as a significant sign of rapprochement between the two countries.

While Obama has expressed interest in updating U.S. policy toward Cuba, moves toward normalizing relations between the two countries have been slow. Recent talks over immigration issues and re-establishing mail service, for instance, broke down over Cuba’s arrest of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, though there have been some smaller moves on travel restrictions. In any event, part of Obama’s speech appeared directly aimed at Castro, as well as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who was also present:      

"There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality," he said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
"There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom but do not tolerate dissent from their own people," he said.

If South Africa is the textbook example of when political sanctions can be effective, Cuba is the textbook example of when they aren’t. The handshake could be a sign of bigger things to come, but keep in mind that Bill Clinton also shook hands with the leader of Cuba, then Fidel Castro, in 2000. Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.