Mandela and the Obama-Castro Handshake

Vicente Morin Aguado

Barack Obama and Raul Castro at the funeral of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday. Photo: SABC

HAVANA TIMES — The photo of Barack Obama and Raul Castro shaking hands was the talk of the day Tuesday around the world. Those photographed, however, are probably more concerned about what the man who brought about their encounter on African soil – and ultimately forced them to shake hands – could think of them.

Whatever his opinion – and whichever of the paradises imagined by humanity’s different religions he may be in – Nelson Mandela will continue to show the smile that became one of his most efficient of weapons.

Neither the hand-shake at the stadium in Johannesburg, nor the fact the two presidents were among the five selected to speak at the ceremony, were accidental: there were more than enough reasons for both, as history, which comes in our aid today, can attest to.

Obama is not only the president of the world’s most powerful country; he is also the United States’ first black (or African-American) president, a man who, in addition, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (questionably, as he will be remembered, among other things, as the Commander in Chief of several apparently endless wars). I should add that he is also an exceptional orator with no shortage of charisma.

Raul Castro cannot compete with the charms of the US leader, who, in the good old days, would have met with the Cuban president’s predecessor and older brother. Likewise, Cuba is a small, Caribbean archipelago with a small economy that is dependent on nearby and distant countries.

The two leaders are separated by the sweat and blood spilt by hundreds of thousands of Cubans on the African continent, cradle of humanity. Frugal in his praises, the legendary Mandela said in 1995: “Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers.  They have shared the same trenches with us in the struggle against colonialism, underdevelopment and apartheid.”

The wisdom of South African’s ANC leaders, sustained by the example set by the man to whom humanity pays tribute today, made the encounter possible.

I am still surprised at Mandela’s decision to renounce a re-election attempt, to step aside and give his comrades in the struggle an opportunity to demonstrate their merits.

Mandela was never unworthy of his friends, repeatedly acknowledging the important thrust given the struggle against Apartheid provided by Cuban internationalism.

He did not copy others. Rather, he listened to everyone, in order to finally construct a new country that was true to its history.

Mandela negotiated with all manner of adversaries: with De Klerk and the other heirs of the defeated but then still powerful white elite, on the on hand, and with Buthelezi, the representative of a broad, ethnic faction intent on repaying racist excesses with violence, on the other.

He chose the affection of his children and grandchildren over the ostentatious honors of public ceremonies or the thunderous applause of the multitudes.

He left this earth with hardly any enemies, without having started any wars and, better yet, having sought reconciliation and peace among warring factions.

To revere Mandela for his long and unquestionably fruitful life is one thing, implementing his contributions to universal politics quite another.

As Barack Obama and Raul Castro shake hands and others applaud, Madiba watches from a distance.

Vicente Morín Aguado.   [email protected]

One thought on “Mandela and the Obama-Castro Handshake

  • It is amazing to me to read how some media outlets and journalists that are left-leaning are desperately scrounging around this handshake hoping to make it out to be more than it was. IT WAS JUST A HANDSHAKE!! As Secretary of State Kerry clearly stated in response to Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen’s criticism of the handshake in front of a full congressional committee, the US policy towards Cuba is unchanged. It was simply a diplomatic gesture appropriate for the setting.

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