The Significance of the Raul Castro-Obama Handshake

Dec 29, 2013 by


Esteban Morales

Barack Obama and Raul Castro two weeks ago at the funeral of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday.

HAVANA TIMES — Though Raul Castro and Barack Obama’s recent greeting at Nelson Mandela’s funeral was merely a handshake – there was really no time for anything more elaborate – the gesture was no accident. That is, they meant it.

These things either happen or not, but they do not happen by chance. Either there is an express will to do it or it simply doesn’t happen. Coincidences cannot be prepared in advance or staged. Even if someone’s planned for such occurrences, no one dares go through with such gestures if the other party hasn’t expressed their agreement, much less if they don’t know whether they will reciprocate. No one likes to make a fool of themselves.

It wasn’t mere politeness either. The two countries have been in conflict for many years and, if one of the two leaders had decided not to greet the other, the handshake would quite simply not have taken place.

I don’t think there is any contradiction in the fact the two leaders greeted each other and that, now, Obama should have decided (if it was actually the President’s call) to impose a 100-million-dollar and 72-million-Euro fine on the Royal Bank of Scotland [1].

Quite simply, if the United States – or Obama in particular – saw the opportunity to do so, he really had no reason to play dumb or let it go. Obama has said he will keep the blockade in place and that’s how things are going to work, until the president decides on a different course of action.

There is also no contradiction in the fact the Semester at Sea cruise should have returned to Cuba after an 8-year travel prohibition, or that different tourism cruises should have begun to arrive at the island once again. All of this falls well within the Cuba policy which Obama has decided to follow since 2009.

The two countries are also holding talks about mail and migratory services. Students are also being granted permission to come to Cuba and there are periodic talks about the Guantanamo Naval Base aimed at preventing unpleasant incidents. As we say in Cuba, “you can be polite and brave at the same time.”

Are we really to believe that Obama’s gesture towards Raul Castro reveals that the United States’ aggressive policy towards Cuba will become more lenient?

There is no need for such speculation. Obama’s gesture, returned by Raul, is in keeping with the policy the US president has decided to follow vis-à-vis Cuba. It would be a mistake to jump to any conclusions and assume Obama’s handshake is a step beyond this policy.

What we should hope for is for Obama to clarify what he meant when he said in Miami that Cuba policy had to be “updated.” That statement, and what comes next, is worth our attention.

In the meantime, Cuba continues to strengthen its position and wait to see whether Obama’s greeting was a polite, friendly or hypocritical gesture.

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