Why Did Obama Shake Hands With Cuban Leader Raul Castro?

How much should we read into the handshake between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro?

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands at Nelson Mandela's memorial. 

Two major news items have emerged from Nelson Mandela’s memorial, at least as far as the American internet goer is concerned: President Obama took a selfie with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schimdt and President Obama shook Cuban President Raul Castro’s hand. Interestingly, had Obama taken a selfie with Castro and stopped at a handshake with Thorning-Schimdt, we would have one amazing piece of news and one thing that no one cares about instead of two medium-interesting pieces of news.

Anyway, we’ve already done some in-depth Obama selfie coverage, so what about the handshake with Raul Castro? The American policy toward Cuba is basically just a long hangover from Cold War policies. Our trade embargo with Cuba is still around because it is politically difficult to make friends with Communists, and trade with Cuba is not important enough to the U.S. for business leaders to start asking politicians to open up relations. Under Fidel Castro, relations with Cuba were essentially a non-starter, but with Raul Castro, there is hope for a change.

Since becoming President, Obama has opened that door just a little by allowing family visits and cultural trips, but you still can’t just go to Cuba because you want to vacation there. This hurts Cuba, because they lose trade and tourism dollars, and it doesn’t do the U.S. any favors either. If we are really so disgusted with the Communist regime in Cuba, the U.S. could make them act like capitalists by offering economic rewards for doing so.

Will the Obama-Castro handshake start to thaw U.S.-Cuba relations? Unclear. But it does hint that Obama knows that the U.S. policy towards Cuba isn’t helping anyone, and that perhaps the animosity between the two countries, long-expired and just sitting in the fridge, can be tossed out.

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