When US President Barack Obama wanted to put his arm around the shoulder of Cuba’s President Raul Castro, Castro was having none of it. No matter what language you speak, the international language of “body language” speaks volumes.
If Obama succeeded in placing his arm around Castro on Live Cuban TV, it would make Castro appear weak to his citizens. It would give the impression that Obama ( who is a head and shoulder taller than Castro) dominated the get-together and was more powerful than Castro.
Putting your arm around someone’s shoulder shows that you are in control or are more powerful. That is was what Obama was trying to say with his body language. It was also way too friendly of a gesture for two countries who have not had an American President on Cuban soil for almost 80 years. No matter how good a time Obama may have had with his Cuban host, the bottom line is that there is still a lot of pain, tension, and controversy. What Castro was saying by grabbing Obama’s arm and not allowing that arm to touch him was telling Obama that “all is not so well or as good as you think it is.”
There is no question that Obama felt a little awkward or embarrassed by Castro’s rebuff. As you can see in the above photo, his head is bowed down as he waves. If he was feeling less awkward, his head would have been up while he was waving. His head would have been in the same upward posture as Castro, if Obama was feeling more confident in the situation. Obama is still touching Castro’s hand and Castro is ignoring him. Also Castro turns his body away from Obama which also speaks volumes as to how he really feels.
Then Raul Castro takes charge. As Obama is still waving, Castro grabs Obama’s elbow, pinching him with his thumb as you can see. This is a sign of force as Castro directs Obama to leave the stage.
Castro then extends his arm and continues his firm grasp on Obama’s arm, which is now at Obama’s side. He is in essence, trying to push Obama off the stage as Castro has now turned his own body towards the exit, while Obama is still standing there, with his body facing forward.
Now Castro shows that he is definitely in charge and in control as the host of this meeting and as the President of his country. He walks past Obama, moving directly in front of Obama. Obama looks annoyed by this as you can see by the expression on his face. You can also see that Obama’s arm is at his side and hand is beginning to form into a ball which shows that he is angry at the situation. He is not walking erect with his head up, but his head is bowed down and his shoulders are hunched over which shows that he is not feeling very secure or confident about what has just occurred.
So as far as a power play is concerned Raul Castro clearly showed Obama that he was in charge and in control and that Obama would have to take a secondary position to him.