The Castro’s 60-year-rule over Cuba has ended. On Thursday, April 19, 2018, the National Assembly of Cuba confirmed Miguel Díaz-Canel as the new head of state.
Díaz-Canel walked into the assembly hall to a standing ovation. His name was presented Wednesday as the single candidate to head Cuba’s council of state. The post effectively serves as presidency. Officials announced the results of the vote: 603 to 1, making Díaz-Canel the new leader of Cuba.
The selection of the new leader begins the new era in a country “deeply identified with the Castros.” The Castros let the triumphant revolution in 1959 and became the “most enduring Communist system in the Western Hemisphere.”
The new leader is a consensus-builder and is certain to make decisions in harmony with Cuba’s “Communist brain trust.”
In 2013, Díaz-Canel was the first vice president of the country. He was uncertain of the relationship with the United States under the presidency of then-President Barack Obama. He has echoed his concerns that economic change should not happen abruptly.
In his inaugural speech, he paid homage to the Castro brothers, as well as “the historic generation” of elder revolutionaries who have run the country for 60 years. Díaz-Canel promised to bring “continuity to the Cuban revolution,” and involve Raúl Castro in the decision making, concerning the future of Cuba.
He spoke of “cautious change” in the context of socialism. “There is no room for those who aspire to a capitalist restoration. We will defend the revolution and continue to perfect socialism.”
The younger Castro brother was considered more focused on reform than his older brother. Cuba is continuing to cautiously test the waters of greater social and economic freedoms. However, it seems to result in two steps forward, and one step back. Díaz-Canel will have to balance two realities: the response to Cuba’s frustration over their economic stagnation and the “reluctance of the Communist Party to embrace faster reforms.”
Raúl will remain in the influential position as the head of the Communist Party and as a touchstone for the new leader. They can be viewed as mentor and disciple, according to Carlos Alzugaray, a former diplomat for Cuba.
Díaz-Canel is the son of a mechanic. He was born in the province of Villa Clara and became an electrical engineer at the Central University of Las Villas. Once he graduated, he joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba. After his time in the military, Díaz-Canel became a college professor and began to create a relationship with the Communist Party.
In 1987, the new Cuban leader was assigned to be the liaison to Nicaragua. The leftist-Sandinista government of Nicaragua has received a significant amount of aid from Cuba. Later, he became the party secretary in Cuba in the early 90s, when the collapse of Soviet Union “resulted in a cutoff of subsidized oil and an economic crisis.”
Díaz-Canel built a reputation as an efficient and approachable manager. He held impromptu meetings on his front porch, wearing shorts and a T-shirt. He was known for his independence in resisting pressure from the Communist Party. For example, he shut down a new meeting place that was established for member of the LGBT community in his province.
In 2013, as education minister, he intervened between professors who had started an independent blog about the Communist Party. The professors were from the University of Matanzas and they were writing commentary and critiques about the party.
Their blog was blocked on the university servers and then the received the news that Díaz-Canel wanted to meet with them. The professors had prepared speeches about the value of their blog to society, according to Professor Harold Cárdenas. Once they arrived, however, Díaz-Canel asked them what they needed to keep up the blog and offered his help.
Now, the professors see the new leader’s role as an opportunity for measured change.
In the 90s Díaz-Canel was one of the first leaders to use a laptop. Now he uses a tablet. It seems his intent to keep up with technology is a sign he is capable of making necessary changes while maintaining continuity within the system.
The Cuban Council of State will be filled with new and younger faces. Another new change for the country. Also presented as candidates were the first black vice president and three female vice presidents. The assembly results will be announced later on Thursday. However, it is likely this list of candidates will be approved, they are all party loyalists.
According to former Cuban government analyst and professor of political science at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, Arturo Lopez-Levy, “It’s very significant. It shows that Raúl had been successful in bringing into retirement much of the octogenarian group.”
By Jeanette Smith
The Washington Post: Castro rule in Cuba ends as Miguel Diaz-Canel confirmed in leadership change
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