Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas walked out of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday as Cuba's President Raul Castro began speaking.
A spokesman for Cruz, who is a member of the official U.S. delegation to the Mandela memorial, told Newsmax that the senator feels "Castro has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents."
Cruz's father fled Cuba before Fidel Castro — Raul's brother and predecessor — came to power in 1959.
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"Just as Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Castro should finally release his political prisoners; he should hold free elections, and once and for all set the Cuban people free," the senator's spokesman said.
Cruz hopes the Cuban strongman's regime frees its political prisoners and forgives its enemies, his spokesman told Newsmax, and that "Raul Castro learns the lesson of Nelson Mandela."
The action by Cruz came in stark contrast to that of President Barack Obama, who shook hands with Castro at the service.
The United States and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations for more than 50 years. Obama's handshake with Castro was only the second time that leaders of the two countries have greeted each other. In 2000, President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro at the United Nations.
Obama's handshake was criticized in the Cuban-American community, including by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Rubio, son of Cuban immigrants, said that "if the president was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba," The Hill reported.
"It remains clear that Cuba is the same totalitarian state today that it has been for decades. This totalitarian state continues to have close ties to terrorist organizations," Rubio said.
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