Saturday 21 April 2018

Barack Obama and Raúl Castro build bridges as world says farewell to Nelson Mandela

Clasping hands with the leader of one of America’s oldest geopolitical foes and offering a kiss to another head of government whom his country has just recently antagonised, US President Barack Obama appeared anxious to honour Nelson Mandela’s legacy of forgiveness and reconciliation with more than just words at his memorial service in South Africa on Tuesday.

While having so many world leaders in one place is rare – it is usually seen only at the United Nations General Assembly once a year in New York – it wasn’t clear how many of them were taking the opportunity to do some discreet diplomatic business.

Mr Obama, however, appeared to seize the moment. As he met a parade of fellow world leaders who had similarly flocked to Johannesburg for the occasion, he stirred hopes of a possible breakthrough with Cuba after shaking hands with Raul Castro in full view of the world’s cameras.

As an act of soft diplomacy the Obama-Castro greeting took many by surprise. Such personal interactions between the two countries have been exceedingly rare over the more than five decades of frozen ties between them.

The only prior example was a chance meeting and handshake between former President Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro, Raul’s elder brother, at the United Nations in 2000.

Mr Obama’s brief cheek-peck was for Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian President, who earlier this year shelved a visit to Washington after revelations of NSA eavesdropping on her private communications.

Bono is greeted by George W Bush at the memorial in Soweto.
Bono is greeted by George W Bush at the memorial in Soweto.
President Barack Obama greets Cuban President Raul Castro.
In this image from TV, supermodel Naomi Campbell, left, arrives at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, ahead of a memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013.
Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and musician Bono wave to mourners during the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Cuban President Raul Castro, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Andrew Mlangeni listen as United States President Barack Obama speaks during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Mary Robinson and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu arrive for the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Actress Charlize Theron waits with Bono for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
President Barack Obama greets Cuban President Raul Castro and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
U.S. President Barack Obamagreets former South African President F.W. de Klerk during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Bono and his wife Ali Hewson attend the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
People embrace as they arrive at Ellis Park to watch a telecast of the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. O
Members of the public sing and dance inside the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public sing and dance inside the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public sing and dance inside the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public sing and dance as they arrive for the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public sing and dance as they arrive for the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
A woman and a girl embrace to keep warm as they await the Nelson Mandela memorial service to begin at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public walk towards the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
A woman waits for the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
People arrive at Ellis Park to watch a telecast of the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
People arrive at Ellis Park to watch a telecast of the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public sing and dance inside the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Over 60 heads of state have travelled to South Africa to attend a week of events commemorating the life of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Members of the public walk towards the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public walk towards the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public sing and dance inside the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
British prime minister David Cameron is interviewed by media prior to the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public walk towards the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
People arrive at Ellis Park to watch a telecast of the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
People sing as they arrive at Ellis Park to watch a telecast of the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public walk towards the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Members of the public arrive to attend the Nelson Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium, on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
People sing and hold a South African flag as they arrive at Ellis Park to watch a telecast of the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
People arrive at Ellis Park to watch a telecast of the Nelson Mandela memorial service on December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994 after spending 27 years in jail for his activism against apartheid in a racially-divided South Africa.

Even Mr Obama’s journey to South Africa offered some example of political rapprochement with both his Republican predecessor, George W Bush, on Air Force One’s passenger manifest and with Hillary Clinton, the Democrat who some say is manoeuvring to replace him.

France’s François Hollande similarly demonstrated his understanding of the symbolism of the moment, walking into the stadium alongside the man he replaced, Nicolas Sarkozy.

1999 Mandela and Michael Jackson arrive at a news conference in Cape Town, where Jackson announced dates for two concerts with profits to go to various funds including the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
1999 Mandela and Michael Jackson arrive at a news conference in Cape Town, where Jackson announced dates for two concerts with profits to go to various funds including the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
March 17, 1997, South African President Nelson Mandela, shows the way to Britain's Princess Diana in Cape Town, South Africa, where they discussed the threat of AIDS in the country.
Popstar Beyoncé posted this photo to her Instagram account after learning of the death of Nelson Mandela. 'Thank you for all you have sacrificed to improve the lives of other human beings. Rest in peace," she wrote.
May 19, 1998, Cuban leader Fidel Castro,shares a laugh with South Africa President Nelson Mandela at a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.
1993, Roy Keane meeting Nelson Mandela while on a pre-season tour of South Africa with Manchester United.
Nov. 28, 2003, Nelson Mandela with U.S. singer Beyonce Knowles and British singer Annie Lennox on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa. The singers were in town to perform at the Nelson Mandela 46664 AIDS Awareness concert.
May 21, 2003, Nelson Mandela chats with England's soccer captain David Beckham at the Nelson Mandela Foundation office in Johannesburg.
South African President Nelson Mandela guides Pope John Paul II after they met at Johannesburg International Airport, at the start of the pope's first official visit to the country, in this file picture taken September 16, 1995.
31 May 1998, Nelson Mandela, flanked by Spice Girls at the presidential residence Mahlamba Nalopfu in Pretoria, South Africa.
July 20, 1996. South African President Nelson Mandela and U.S. pop star Michael Jackson hug each other at the president's official home in Cape Town.
29 August 2007 of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Former South African President Nelson Mandela applauding performers during a statue unveiling ceremony in Nelson Mandela's honour at Parliament Square, London.
27 October 1995, Nelson Mandela shaking hands with England's Mike Atherton during a drinks interval in their match against Invitation XI in Soweto.
16 June 1998 of South African President Nelson Mandela greeting Irish Taoiseach Bertie Aherne at the Euro Summit in Cardiff.
August 6, 2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Nelson Mandela, 94, former president of South Africa, at his home in Qunu, South Africa.
10 August 1996 Prime Minister John Major meeting President Nelson Mandela at Downing Street.
29 June 2008, Former South African President Nelson Mandela speaking with Conservative Party leader David Cameron at The Dorchester in central London.
April 2009, Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay meets Nelson Mandela during a lunch to Benefit the Mandela Children's Foundation.
11/04/2000 President Mary McAleese with former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, during a meeting at the Presidents Palace in Dublin.
27 August 2008,Nelson Mandela joined on stage by his guests during the 46664 concert honouring Nelson Mandela's ninetieth birthday in Hyde Park, London.
25 April 1991 Nelson Mandela enjoying his first look at his wax work model at Madame Tussauds, London.
October 31, 2004, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is pictured meeting with Nelson Mandela the former leader of South Africa.
02 August 2003, former US President Bill Clinton and former South African President Nelson Mandela, during a gala night to mark the centenary of the Rhodes Trust and the establishment of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, at Westminster.
28 June 2000, Nelson Mandela waving to delegates flanked by Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.
9 August 1996, Nelson Mandela, accompanied by his daughter Princess Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, standing with The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace before a state banquet in the president's honour.
February 1, 2002 Britain's Prince Charles shares a light moment with Nelson Mandela during a show at the Amsterdam arena.
December 6, 2002, Nelson Mandela poses with television personality Oprah Winfrey in Henley, Johannesburg.
May 25, 2002, Former South African President Nelson Mandela and Bono pose together after meeting at Mandela's residence at Houghton in Johannesburg.
March 11, 1997, South African President Nelson Mandela shares a joke with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates after their meeting at Mandela's residence in Cape Town.
February 29, 2008, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy pose with former South African President Nelson Mandela during their visit to the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.
July 2, 2003, Nelson Mandela is assisted by Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S. president Bill Clinton after attending a Gala night in Westminster Hall, London.
March 24, 1995, President Nelson Mandela and Brazilian Sport Minister and former soccer player Pele smile for photographers at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
June 15, 1990, Pope John Paul II, shakes hands with Nelson Mandela, deputy leader of African National Congress, during a private audience at the Vatican.

The fact that Mr Hollande and ex-President Sarkozy flew to South Africa in different French government planes caused some amusement and puzzlement in the French media on Tuesday.

The Elysée Palace insisted that it was not a question of either man snubbing, or cold-shouldering, the other. The deployment of two 10-seater Falcon aircraft was several times cheaper than using the Presidential Airbus, officials said.

They pointed out that Mr Hollande had to travel with other officials, including the Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, and intended to make a risky visit to the French military intervention force in the violence-ravaged Central African Republic on his way home last night. Mr Sarkozy therefore flew in another plane.

Meanwhile, dispensing with his off-podium niceties, Mr Obama laced his eulogy for Mr Mandela with appeals to those countries with records of political repression which have expressed their declared admiration for “Madiba”, Mr Mandela’s tribal name, and his campaigning for political and social freedom. Mr Obama named none, but Cuba would surely be among them.

“There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” Mr Obama said, standing just yards not just from Mr Castro but also Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao.

“There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”

For some, being in the red-carpet section was enough to induce a feeling of awkwardness. Robert Mugabe, the internationally ostracised leader of Zimbabwe, was said to have travelled to Johannesburg only reluctantly. Mr Mandela never made any secret of his disappointment with the path Mr Mugabe took to oppress political opposition in Zimbabwe after having been one of the earliest pioneers of the fight for independence in Africa.

He once told Mr Sarkozy of his Zimbabwean counterpart: “Before I was released from prison, he was the most popular African leader in this area, but when I was released, the media said, ‘This is the end of Mugabe from the point of view of popularity’. In fact, he himself did not want me to come out of jail.”

David Usborne

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