Barack Obama shakes hands with Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial

Suzie Bakos

Barack Obama marked his historic three-day visit to Cuba when he shook hands with Cuban leader Raúl Castro. This was the first public greeting involving a president of the United States since the Cuban revolution, all taking place during Nelson Mandela's memorial on Tuesday.

Many world leaders gathered to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela in Soweto but it was the handshake which Barack Obama and Raúl Castro shared that added to the significance of the day.

CLICK TO VIEW FULL GALLERY

obamaraul-VIEW GALLERY

The US and Cuban leaders shook hands on Tuesday

Barack met with President Raúl Castro to press the Cuban leader for economic and democratic reforms, while hearing complaints about continued U.S. economic sanctions.

A U.S. presidential visit to the inner sanctum of Cuban power was not imaginable before Barack and Raul’s rapprochement 15 months ago.

The two leaders agreed to end a Cold War-era dispute that lasted five decades and continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is clear they have deep differences to discuss as they attempt to rebuild the bilateral relationship.

walk-VIEW GALLERY

The two leaders met during Nelson Mandela's memorial ceremony

During Tuesday's memorial ceremony, the US president gave a 15-minute eulogy to his fellow world leaders, asking them to continue Mandela's peacemaking work.

"The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important," he said.

"Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love."

flag-VIEW GALLERY

Barack Obama arrived in Cuba with his family on Sunday

The American leader, his wife Michelle Obama and their two daughters Sasha, 14, and Malia, 17, arrived in Cuba on Sunday evening. Despite the driving rain, crowds turned out in force to welcome the Obama family as they enjoyed a walkabout around Old Havana.

Obama is the first sitting US president to visit Cuba since the 1959 revolution, and speaking at the reopened US embassy in Havana shortly after his arrival, he described the trip as "historic".

"It's wonderful to be here," he told the embassy staff. "Back in 1928, President Coolidge came on a battleship. It took him three days to get here, it only took my three hours. For the first time ever, Air Force One has landed in Cuba, and this is our very first stop."

He added that the trip was a chance for him to lay out his "vision for a future that is brighter than our past".

More on: