Obama Shakes Cuba's Raul Castro's Hand at Nelson Mandela Memorial

The president created waves by his friendly gesture to the communist leader.

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President Barack Obama created waves Tuesday when he shook the hand of Cuban President Raul Castro on his way up to eulogize Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday.

Castro took over the leadership of Cuba when his brother, Fidel Castro, became ill.

[READ: Obama Eulogizes Nelson Mandela in South Africa]

The communist regime is still subject to extensive sanctions by the United States and other countries, though Obama did loosen some making it a little easier for travel to the island nation.

Mandela forged a friendship with Fidel Castro, cementing their ties with a visit to Cuba in 1991.

Mandela was South Africa's first black president and championed democracy there following a 27 years imprisonment, but Raul Castro said South Africans hold Cubans in high esteem.

"The Cuban people have a special place in the hearts of the people of South Africa," he said during his own remarks at the Mandela memorial held in FNB Stadium, according to IOL News in South Africa. "He will go down in history for cleansing his soul from the poison (of apartheid)."

Castro said Mandela proved that conflicts must be resolved through dialogue and cooperation, according to IOL News.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro, right,  during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. Cuba has long been subject to extensive sanctions by the U.S. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

[PHOTOS: World Leaders Pay Tribute to Mandela in South Africa]

Some conservatives often accuse Obama of being a socialist, claiming his economic policies amount to wealth redistribution counter to capitalism.

Speaking at a recent conference with top executives in Washington, D.C., Obama ridiculed the notion that he was anything but a capitalist.

"People call me a socialist sometimes, but you've got to meet real socialists, you'll have a real sense of what a socialist is," he said Nov. 19. "I'm talking about lowering the corporate tax rate, my health care reform is based on the private marketplace, the stock market is doing pretty good the last time I checked and it is true that I am concerned about growing inequality in the system, but nobody questions the efficacy of a market economy in terms of producing wealth and innovation and keeping us competitive."

Political observers of the handshake attributed it to a mark of respect within the context of the Mandela legacy, not a signal being sent about changing American policy toward Cuba.

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