John Kerry and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Duel After Obama Shakes Raul Castro's Hand

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: December 12, 2013 3:55 AM
John Kerry and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

John Kerry and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry clashed with U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., after President Barack Obama shook the hand of communist Cuban tyrant Raul Castro at iconic South African leader Nelson Mandel’s funeral.

Kerry testified before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and drew heat from Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. Born in Cuba, Ros-Lehtinen and her family fled that island nation in the wake of the communist takeover.

Displaying a photo of Obama shaking Castro’s hand, Ros-Lehtinen demanded answers from Kerry and the administration.

“Mr. Secretary, sometimes a handshake is just a handshake,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “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. In fact, right now, as we speak, Cuban opposition leaders are being detained and they’re beaten while trying to commemorate today, which is International Human Rights Day,” Ros-Lehtinen added. “They will feel disheartened when they see these photos.

“Could you please tell the Cuban people living under that repressive regime that, a handshake notwithstanding, the U.S. policy toward the cruel and sadistic Cuban dictatorship has not weakened?” she asked in conclusion.

Kerry insisted the focus should be on Mandela but added, despite the handshake, there was no change in American policy on Cuba.

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

Kerry pointed toward Obama’s speech in which he called for more human rights across the globe.

"I think, as the president said in his speech today honoring Nelson Mandela, he said we urge leaders to honor Mandela's struggle for freedom by upholding the basic human rights of their people," Kerry said.

Ros-Lehtinen fired back, demanding to know if Kerry thought Cuba was upholding those human rights. “No,” Kerry replied.

The veteran Florida congresswoman appeared on Megyn Kelly's show on Fox News later on Tuesday and continued to bash Obama for shaking Castro’s hand.

Pointing to her childhood, Ros-Lehtinen said South Florida was full of people like her “who have felt the sting of communist oppression” and hit Castro’s record on human rights.

“Raul Castro does not deserve President Obama to display this courtesy,” she said. “He should have shunned him.”

Asked about claims that Obama didn't know Castro would be sitting behind him at the funeral, Ros-Lehtinen said she did not buy it.

“I think the president did know,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I don’t it was by chance or by accident.”

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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