President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro’s unexpected snog at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was a completely spur-of-the-moment thing, the White House has said.
There had been fevered anticipation over the last few days over whether the leaders would be able to overcome their differences at the service and share a handshake, but few commentators expected the sudden mouth-on-mouth lunge of the two leaders. As world figures watched stunned, Obama and Castro mashed faces desperately for several minutes in a frenzy of tonsil-licking release.
In a statement later, the Cuban government said the gesture may show the “beginning of the end of the US capitalist aggressions”, and concluded “He may be an imperialist running dog, but hubba hubba!”
Meanwhile White House aide Ben Rhodes played down the incident, telling reporters the two exchanged nothing more substantive than a “frank exchange of saliva”, adding that President Obama felt he’d let himself down a bit and was slightly embarrassed about the whole thing.
The US broke off diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 partly because Fidel Castro aligned with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, but mainly because then-President Kennedy refused Fidel’s fevered advance on him in a Havana cinema, saying he “didn’t do that on a first date”. Relations have been frosty between the nations ever since, but now show signs not merely of thawing, but of frankly breaking into a sizzle.
One immediate example of the difficulties the two countries will face in adapting to their new relationship was the emergency scrambling of security teams to deal with a suspicious package delivered today to the White House, which was later found to contain nothing more than a box of Terry’s “All Gold” chocolates and a naked photo of Lenin, sent from an anonymous benefactor.
In a sign that commentators should remain sceptical of immediate rapprochement between the two men, the Cuban press office later issued a correction to news reports that Raul Castro had become “moist” during the meeting, clarifying that in fact he has always been “Maoist”.