Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Let's shake on it

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It was hardly the most significant handshake in history, but when U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro shook hands at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, it was observed around the world as a gesture of conciliation between the two estranged nations.

It may have been nothing more than the customary embrace that occurs between world leaders. The fact it occurred in front of the news cameras during a service dedicated to a man who exemplified the meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation, however, meant the symbolism could not be ignored.

America and Cuba have been waging their own cold war, with occasional hot spots, since 1959, when Fidel Castro overthrew the American-backed government.

The United States used all its powers to undermine the Cuban dictatorship, which merely forced Castro into the arms of the Soviet Union.

When the ailing Fidel was replaced by his brother Raul, however, there were modest signals the country might begin to open up and modernize its political system.

That still hasn't happened, but it might if the Americans offered a few modest incentives to encourage change in Cuba.

The American embargo, has not achieved its aims. Reconciliation, however, might encourage the Cubans to promote democracy and respect human rights, if only on a small scale to start.

America should not give up on human rights, but it should recognize it's harder to effect change without engagement, which has been Canada's policy.

Mr. Mandela supported Fidel Castro because he opposed apartheid, which put the Cuban leader on the right side of history on that issue at least. The Americans, however, branded Mandela a terrorist, a designation that was not formally rescinded until 2008.

The handshake may not have been intended as a symbol, but it's as good a place as any to renew an old relationship. Mr. Mandela would agree.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2013 A8

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