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Obama shakes hands with Castro

By Rosa Duarte, Reporter, RDuarte@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 10 2013 10:22:37 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 11 2013 04:43:03 AM CST

President Obama shakes hands with Raul Castro

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The Nelson Mandela memorial service wasn't the only thing making headlines in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama's gesture toward one leader in particular has people around the world wondering: what does it mean?

As he reached the stage, President Obama was seen having a brief encounter with Cuban President Raul Castro.

It's not known what was said between the two leaders but the men shook hands.

Now, politicians are weighing in on what the gesture might mean, especially since the U.S. and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since the Cuban Revolution more than 50 years ago.

In a congressional hearing, Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who was born in Cuba, made her feelings known to Secretary of State John Kerry.

"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. Raul Castro uses that hand to sign the orders to repress and jail democracy advocates,” she said.

Kerry responded, "Today is about honoring Nelson Mandela, and the president is at an international funeral with leaders from all over the world. He didn't choose who was there to honor Mandela."

However this isn't the first time leaders of both countries have shaken hands.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton was seen shaking the hand of then leader Fidel Castro at a United Nations Summit.

Some, like Allentown City Council President Julio Guridy, are saying given the time and place of the encounter, there's not much else Obama could've done.

“If you have somebody in front of you, another leader in an occasion such as the one for Nelson Mandela...it is the right thing to do,” said Guridy.