President Barack Obama shook hands with Cuban leader Raúl Castro at the memorial for the late President Nelson Mandela in Soweto, Johannesburg on Tuesday morning. Raúl Castro has served as president since his brother, Fidel, was incapacitated by ill health. The Castro regime remains one of the last communist holdouts and is regarded as one of the most repressive on earth. Cuba is still subject to a U.S. trade embargo.
South Africa has close ties with Cuba because the ruling party, the African National Congress, was supported by Castro during its years of exile and guerrilla warfare against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Many South African leaders, including Mandela, were willing to overlook human rights abuses in Cuba. Today Cuba exports professionals to South Africa to fill a skills shortage partly created by aggressive affirmative action policies.
Obama campaigned in 2007-8 on a promise to meet American enemies “without preconditions,” and met and embraced the late Hugo Chávez of Venezuela in 2009. He has also pushed for negotiations with the Iranian regime–long before the current “moderate” president took power. President Obama seemed pleased to meet Castro, who also spoke at the memorial, and the handshake was broadcast live on television worldwide.