By Greg Wade.Virtual New York. Saturday, 9 September 2000 23:47 (ET)
NEW YORK, Sept. 10, (UPI) -- The visit of Cuban President Fidel Castro to a local church full of supporters -- preceded by his United Nations handshake with President Clinton -- left a renewed sense of hope and confidence among his supporters that diplomatic relations between the United States
and Cuba can improve.
"The handshaking incident with President Clinton could be part of a trend to ease the sanctions against Cuba", Raymond Abreu said, as the human rights activist was leading a group of supporters outside Riverside Church where Castro addressed a crowd of thousands. Castro's
four-hour-long speech covered a wide range of topics from poverty to political prisoners. "I am confident that his visit would improve a four-decade-long sour relationship with Cuba", said Ruiz Diaro, a migrant from the communist country.
Outside the church a group of Castro supporters waived flags and chanted "Blockade,no; Cuba,yes" in Spanish. This visit should pave the way for political harmony between the two countries for the first time in more than 40 years" said Roberto Diaz.
"The handshake with President Clinton means nothing until better diplomatic relations are put into practice", added Diaz.
Castro shook hands with Clinton at a lunch affair during the United Nation Millenium Summit Conference which concluded Friday. Castro was one of roughly 150 international leaders who attended the summit and the White House categorized the greeting as nothing more than a reflex gesture during an
accidental intersection. Castro reportedly said it would have been rude to do otherwise.
Diplomats claim that the Castro handshake was the first such greeting with an American president since the Cuban leader came to power in 1959. "The appearance of Fidel Castro this evening will determine if the handshake with Clinton will be something of no substance or would bring in a new
element toward working to establish better relations", stated Reverend James Forbes, the senior Minister of Riverside Church.
"It will reassure if the shaking of hands would be an empty gesture or be of substance", Forbes further added. "It's time that the United States works to end a four-decade-long political estrangement with Cuba", stated Maria Torres, a community activist in the Latino
The United States has maintained a 38 year old trade embargo against the Caribbean country.
"Maybe pressure can be increased on congress to lift the embargo and allow travel and trade with Cuba", said David Ramirez, an international law student at Columbia University.
"I cannot recall ever being excited since I can remember the United States breaking off all relations with Cuba", remarked Bill Cowren, a political activist.
"With increasing globization, there can not be any rift with neighboring countries, each nation is dependent on one another", said Dorothy Smiler, a supporter who could not enter the church to see the Cuban Leader because of the crowd.
Human rights organizations declared that they will work hard to bring about better relations with Cuba. Activists declared that they will embark upon mass mobilization to pressure elected officials to move toward erasing the trade embargo in Congress.
Copyright 2000 by United Press International.