Earlier this week, conservative blogs and the Twittersphere exploded over President Obama’s handshake with Cuban president Raul Castro at the funeral services for former South African president and overall legendary hero to billions, Nelson Mandela. And when I say exploded, I am not kidding. Senator John McCain even compared it to then-UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolph Hitler. Seriously?
The vitriol was truly astonishing. A handshake is just about the most basic pleasantry that can be exchanged between two world leaders and, well, that’s just what you do. Especially considering it’s hardly the first time a US president has done something like this. Clinton shook Fidel Castro’s hand, Nixon shook the hand of Mao Zedong. It’s called diplomacy and considering they were at the funeral of a man who was able to reconcile with his former jailers and end Apartheid, I am happy that the spirit of diplomacy prevailed.
[Oh and Senator McCain? Douche. Why? That hypocritical fuck shook hands with Gaddafi! See hysterical and frustrating Daily Show clip below.]
Not only that, but Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro were close friends and in 1991, after both spoke in Cuba, a volume was published containing their speeches, entitled “How Far We Slaves Have Come.” Check it out. It’s a damn interesting read. (Mine’s autographed by Fidel, natch.)
For the countless dimwits who got their knickers in a twist over this, perhaps a little history lesson is in order. In 1975, Angola was undergoing a struggle for independence from Portugal. The Apartheid government in South Africa, along with Mobuto-led Zaïre (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), were launching separate US-backed military campaigns in competition with the home-grown People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), attempting to in effect, take control of Angola during the expected post-Portugal power vacuum. Cuba stepped in to aid the MPLA and in the process, dealt a major military defeat to South Africa, eventually helping to train. ANC rebels in their struggle against South Africa.
This is a very truncated and simplified version of the events, but to say that Cuba played a significant role in the eventual end of Apartheid is not an exaggeration.
The bottom line is two-fold:
1-Politics aside, sometimes a handshake is just a handshake and it’s what adults do when they meet each other, especially adults that run entire countries.
2-South Africa and Cuba have a long and mutually beneficial relationship and it was Cuba and not the supposedly freedom-loving US that was instrumental in the dismantling of Apartheid and in helping to end the colonial reign in South-West Africa.