Obama's notorious handshake with Raúl Castro at the Nelson Mandela memorial in Johannesburg yesterday is prompting requisite outrage from all the predictable quarters—beginning with Florida's Republican Congressional delegation. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the handshake "nauseating and disheartening," while Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, also the offspring of Cuban immigrants, said "the president's friendly demeanor with Raúl Castro is reflective of his policies to the Castro regime and every other terrorist dictatorship." Sen. Marco Rubio said Obama "should have asked [Castro] about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba." (USA Today)
This is ironic several different ways. First, in his speech at the memorial, Obama did in fact implicitly call out Raúl and Fidel. The following line was obviously aimed at them: "There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people." (CNN transcript)
But augmenting the irony is the fact that Mandela himself saw Fidel Castro as a brother and comrade—who had forthrightly opposed South Africa's apartheid regime for decades while the US acquiesced in white supremacist rule through such policies as Reagan's "constructive engagement." More, Cuba sent troops to actually fight the apartheid regime when it intervened against revolutionary Angola in the 1970s and '80s. The CIA-backed guerilla forces in Angola in those years were allied with apartheid South Africa, and both were finally dealt a defeat by combined Angolan and Cuban forces at the battle at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988. Rubio, Diaz-Balart, and Ros-Lehtinen should have their in-boxes bombarded with a link to this video:
Augmenting the irony yet further is that whatever authoritarianism Cuba suffers from, the far better analogy to apartheid South Africa is Israel—where a colonial state is similarly denying political rights to an indigenous population, usurping their lands and driving them into reduced and impoverished territories ("bantustans" under South African apartheid; "Area A" under contemporary Israeli apartheid). Just two days ago, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett proposed that Israel annex those cleansed areas of the occupied West Bank where most Jewish settlers now live: "I favor implementation of Israeli sovereignty over the zone where 400,000 [settlers] live and only 70,000 Arabs." (Al Jazeera)
This proposal would make Israel's neo-bantustan policy official rather than de facto, and should perhaps therefore be welcomed for its honesty. At least, it heightens the contradiction of the world's last superpower keeping Cuba under harsh embargo while subsidizing an apartheid state to the tune of over a million dollars a day.
However, the real prize for cynical Republican exploitation of Nelson Mandela has got to go to Rick Santorum, who had the unmitigated chutzpah to compare himself to Madiba for his heroic struggle against… Obamacare. (America Blog)
One wishes these clowns would finally be laughed off the stage of history.
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