Confronted by a member of Congress today about President Obama’s handshake with Cuban dictator Raul Castro, Secretary of State John Kerry brushed it off as just doing what was expected of world leaders in the moment.
Kerry was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the Iran nuclear deal when the onetime chairman of the panel and native Cuban Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) asked him about this morning’s heavily circulated image of Obama smiling and pressing flesh with Castro in a reception line.
“Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake. But when the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raul Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
“Raul Castro uses that hand to sign the orders to repress and jail democracy advocates. In fact, right now as we speak, Cuban opposition leaders are being detained and they’re being beaten while trying to commemorate today, which is International Human Rights Day. They will feel disheartened when they see these photos,” she continued. “Could you please tell the Cuban people living under that repressive regime that a handshake notwithstanding the U.S. policy toward the cruel and sadistic Cuban dictatorship has not weakened?”
Kerry replied that “on the issue of Cuba, ladies and gentlemen, today is about honoring Nelson Mandela.”
“And the president’s at an international funeral with leaders from all over the world. He didn’t choose who’s there. They’re there to honor Mandela. And we appreciate that people from all over the world and from all different beliefs and walks of life who appreciated Nelson Mandela and/or were friends of his came to honor him,” Kerry said.
“And I think as the president said, I urge you to go read his speech. Or if you didn’t see it or haven’t read it, the president said in his speech today honoring Nelson Mandela, he said, ‘We urge leaders to honor Mandela’s struggle for freedom by upholding the basic human rights of their people.’”
“And would you say Raul Castro is upholding basic human rights?” Ros-Lehtinen asked.
“No, absolutely not,” Kerry responded. “And you know my position on that.”