While attending the late Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa on Tuesday, President Barack Obama engaged in a reportedly spontaneous handshake with Cuban dictator Raul Castro. The White House downplayed the exchange, but Republicans were quick to criticize the move.
Secretary of State John Kerry was backed into a corner during a congressional hearing on Tuesday by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who blasted the president for shaking the “bloody hand” of someone like Castro.
“Mr. Secretary, 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. Castro uses that hand to sign the orders to repress and jail democracy advocates,” the congresswoman lectured.
Ros-Lehtinen went on to ask Kerry to “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.”
Dodging the question, Kerry argued that “today is about honoring Nelson Mandela” and pointed out that Obama called on world leaders to honor the late South African leader’s by upholding “basic human rights.”
“And would you say Raul Castro is upholding basic human rights?” Ros-Lehtinen shot back.
“No,” Kerry quickly replied. “Absolutely not.”
Watch the interaction below: