Obama criticised over Castro handshake

John Kerry tells Congress that US president did not choose who attended Mandela memorial

US president Barack Obama  shakes hands with Cuban president Raul Castro during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, called the gesture “nauseating”. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

US president Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban president Raul Castro during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, called the gesture “nauseating”. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

Cuban-American politicians in the United States have voiced criticism at President Barack Obama’s historic handshake with Cuban leader Raul Castro at the memorial to Nelson Mandela.

At a Congressional hearing with US secretary of state John Kerry, Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said political dissidents from Cuba would be “disheartened” by the photographs of the first public greeting between a US president and a Cuban leader since the revolution. “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,” she said. “Raul Castro uses that hand to sign the orders to repress and jail democracy advocates,” said the congresswoman who later described the handshake on Fox television as “nauseating”.

Mr Kerry said Mr Obama didn’t choose who attended the memorial. Asked by Ms Ros-Lehtinen if Mr Castro was upholding basic human rights, Mr Kerry replied: “No, absolutely not.” Marco Rubio, Republican senator for Florida, home to many Cuban exiles, said Mr Obama should have asked Mr Castro about “basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba”.