Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cuba Downplays the Handshake

This morning the news of Barack Obama shaking Raúl Castro's hand at Nelson Mandela's funeral was all aflutter on Twitter and then picked up very quickly by other media. It's a travesty! It's a symbolic step forward! Etc.

But you know who ignored it entirely? Granma, the Cuban state newspaper. It ran a story about Castro speaking at the funeral, and made no mention of Obama at all. It also had a photo, but emphasized how Raúl Castro was sitting next to Dilma Rousseff.

I checked out Juventud Rebelde, another major Cuban media outlet, which did mention it. Its story made a point, though, of noting how Bill Clinton had shaken Fidel Castro's hand in 2000. And that didn't portend anything.

The divergence is interesting. In the U.S. we see any minor gesture toward Cuba as a sign of great potential policy change, whereas in Cuba there is far less evident. The embargo is still in place after 50 years of far more dramatic events than that, so from the Cuban side I would suspect it is difficult to imagine something like this mattering too much.


Anonymous,  8:34 AM  

Does it really matter with regard to US policy? We have a second term president who can make some bolder moves in foreign policy w/o worrying about electoral ramifications. The US's Cuban policies are no longer just a series of executive actions though but codified in law. Is there any reason to believe the White House will pursue a change of course? The US prisoner, the Cuban Five, the presence of Fidel and the slow pace of reform in Cuba would seem to argue against it. Fidel's lasting nationalist legacy will be an unbroken record of hostility to the US. Would Raul Castro offer Obama a political opportunity by making a unilateral gesture such as prisoner releases? Obama needs some political cover. The president's desire for burnishing his legacy, the potential for increasing the pace and depth of Cuban reforms, the eventual passing of Fidel, and the inutility of the current policy would all seem to argue for some kind of diplomatic action over the next three years.

Greg Weeks 9:06 AM  

I have no quibble--my only point was that a mere handshake is seen as a big deal in the US and with a shrug in Cuba. It says something about our distorted view of Cuba policy that we ignore the factors you mention and focus on a single photo.

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