When President Barack Obama shook hands with his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last week, American diplomats insisted the encounter held no significance.
“Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake,” said Roberta Jacobson, the US State Department’s top Latin America official.
She told The Sunday Times, during a visit to Miami, that the meeting with the communist leader had been “accidental” and unplanned. “Leaders were lined up on the dais and very much in the spirit of the day he greeted each of those leaders in turn,” she said.
But in nearby Little Havana, the heart of Miami’s 1.6m Cuban-American community, there was suspicion and dismay at Obama’s warmth towards Castro, 82, who was appointed president in 2008 by his ailing brother Fidel, now 87.
Rosa Maria Paya, 24, fled the island this summer, a year after her father, Oswaldo Paya, a leading opposition activist who demanded an end to one-party rule, was killed. She said his car had been repeatedly rammed by a vehicle with a Cuban intelligence agent behind the wheel.