Cuban American lawmakers not happy with Obama shaking Cuban executioner’s bloody hand
Cuban-American lawmakers dismayed over Obama handshake with 'thug' Castro
Cuban-American lawmakers expressed their displeasure Tuesday over President Obama shaking the hand of Raul Castro during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
"It is nauseating," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who fled Cuba with her family when she was a child.
"He shook the hand of a murderer, a thug, and those are bloody hands," she told Fox News.
Distrust of the Castro government runs deep in the Cuban-American community, particularly in Florida where many refugees still live.
Obama's brief encounter with Castro, though, may have been spontaneous, unlike the historic phone call earlier this year between Obama and Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani.
An administration official said "this wasn't a pre-planned encounter," adding: "Above all else, today is about honoring Nelson Mandela, and that was the president's singular focus at the memorial service."
Obama shook Castro's hand as he made his way down a line of dignitaries, including South African President Jacob Zuma and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, on his way to deliver an address honoring the late South African leader.
In the speech in Johannesburg, Obama praised Mandela as the "last great liberator of the 20th century."
"He changed laws, but he also changed hearts," Obama said.
Ros-Lehtinen said afterward that Castro should have listened to Obama's message about how some leaders praise Mandela without respecting human rights. "I think that was a message to Raul Castro," she said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also released a statement saying: "If the president was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba."
The handshake came amid a memorial service that lauded Mandela's spirit of reconciliation. It's unclear whether more will come of the gesture, as efforts by the Obama administration to thaw relations between Cuba and the U.S. have been slow-going.
The U.S. government in 2011 eased the embargo on the island by allowing some Americans to travel there. But the U.S. freeze on Cuba, dating back to when Fidel Castro took power, largely has remained in place - and Cuba's human rights record, particularly its intolerance of political dissent, continues to draw the scorn of rights groups and western governments.