Obama-Castro handshake a hopeful gesture: Cuba gov't website

US President Barack Obama's surprise handshake Tuesday with Cuban President Raul Castro at a memorial for the late Nelson Mandela in South Africa was saluted in Havana as a hopeful sign.

The government website Cubadebate.cu ran a photograph of the moment with the caption: "Obama greets Raul: may this image be the beginning of the end of the US aggressions against Cuba."

It was only the second time since diplomatic ties were broken in 1961 that leaders of the two Cold War antagonists have greeted each other -- and the first time the greeting took place in public.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton exchanged greetings in 2000 during the Millennium summit in New York. There was no picture of the encounter.

While the White House eventually said at the time a handshake had taken place, Castro said only words had been exchanged.

"I couldn't run out to avoid greeting him," the elder of the Castro brothers said at the time, adding that the encounter lasted 20 seconds. "It would have been extravagant and rude to do anything else."

Fidel Castro came to power in the Cuban revolution in 1959.

Washington has maintained a trade embargo against Cuba for half a century, and the fate of the communist state is a bitter issue in US domestic politics.

Analyst Jorge Gomez Barata, in a comment sent to AFP, said the Obama-Castro handshake was a result of "Mandela diplomacy."

"Mandela did not know that such a meeting was going to occur... But he most certainly cleared a path that allowed for the avoidance of confrontation and created the basis for such an important meeting."