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Historic U.S., Cuban Handshake At Mandela Memorial

posted 10 Dec 2013, 07:39 by Mpelembe   [ updated 10 Dec 2013, 07:39 ]

Reactions from Cuba after U.S. President Barack Obama shakes the hand of Cuban President Raul Castro in historic gesture at a memorial for Nelson Mandela.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (DECEMBER 10, 2013) (SABC POOL) -  U.S. President Barack Obama shook the hand of Cuban President Raul Castro at a memorial for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday (Dec. 10), a rare gesture between the leaders of two nations at loggerheads for more than half a century.

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With Mandela's message of reconciliation hanging over the ceremony, Castro smiled as Obama shook his hand on the way to the podium to make a rousing speech in memory of the former South African president, one of the world's greatest peacemakers, who died on Thursday aged 95.

In Havana, the simple gesture inspired hope that the often icy relationship between the U.S. and Cuba would give way to closer ties.

"I think it is very good, it seems to be very good news. (Hopefully) it will open the possibilities for better relations. I think it is very very good," Havana resident Jorge Alert told Reuters Television.

For Hortensia Ojeda, the handshake symbolized peace and dialogue.

"Peace can exist, a dialogue can exist, many things can exist. I think that would be the best thing for both countries, not just Cuba," she said.

"I think it is a good thing that the ties begin to extend towards that day that the blockade ends with the United States which has nothing to do with the direction, or with the President or with what the people in the U.S. think about us," Yasniel Soto said.

Relations between Cuba and the United States have been frozen since soon afterCuba's 1959 revolution led by Raul's brother Fidel Castro, and Washington has maintained economic sanctions on the communist-ruled island for more than half a century.