Who is the new Cuban leader?
Miguel Díaz-Canel, the former vice-president of Cuba has replaced Raul Castro as the country’s president. After six decades of the Castro family in power, the newly appointed leader is now a person born after the Cuban Revolution. “He is not a mystery nor an improvisor”, said Raúl Casto about his successor.
Likes wearing jeans and listens to The Beatles
Miguel Díaz-Canel, 57, was raised in Santa Clara (a town in the central part of Cuba). He likes wearing jeans and listens to The Beatles. This engineer by education after graduating from the university completed his military service in Nicaragua. Díaz-Canel started his career as a lecturer at the Villa Clara University and was the leader of the Young Communists League which gradually brought him closer to politics. In 1989 he became a member of the committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. Five years later he became its First Secretary.
“When he took over the leadership in the party and in our province, he was amazing. He never left work and tried to be everywhere”, recalls José González, one of the pensioners from Díaz-Canel’s hometown.
After Fidel Castro’s death, he became the right hand of his brother, Raul (currently 86-year-old) who was in charge of the country since 2006. Thanks to him, Díaz-Canel became the Minister of Higher Education and, subsequently, the deputy Prime Minister of Cuba. Although political scientists were naming other potential candidates for the office, Díaz-Canela was considered the be the black horse in the race. As expected, on April 19th, the Cuban parliament elected him almost unanimously. He received 603 votes out of 605 possible.
Suit instead of military uniform
Miguel Díaz-Canel, unlike his predecessors, wears a suit instead of a military uniform and presents a progressive approach. He used to organize freedom parades and was in favor of providing Cuba access to the Internet. In one of his speeches, he argued that “given today’s level of development of the Internet and communicators, there is no point in banning them”. On the other hand, Elaine Díaz, a journalist who specializes in Cuba’s issues, remembers that he considered the press which was not associated with the government as supporting foreign interests, although he presented no evidence for this claim.
With regards to his image, a lot of people compare him to Richard Gere, stressing at the same time that he lacks the charisma of this actor. Díaz-Canel, however, has some advantages. He is obedient, does not make mistakes and has no enemies in politics. Some commentators believe that holding his tongue was his way of coming to power and retaining it.
“A lot of people organize their lives on the basis of bigger and smaller decisions. Díaz-Canel acts in the opposite way: he is indecisive, does not draw attention nor does he make enemies”, said one person from the environment of the new president’s family in an interview with the Las Américas daily.
The new president can stay in office for a maximum of two terms. It is very likely that he will not rule by himself and will only perform the representative duties. Especially that Raúl Castro has not left politics and still remains at the helm of the Communist Party in order to, as he promised before, defend the country and socialism. Díaz-Canel himself confirmed that Fidel’s brother will make decisions on the issues of bigger importance for the current situation and the future of the country. Raúl’s son, Alejandro Castro, is, in turn, in charge of the intelligence services so he knows all the secrets of the ruling elite. He was also leading the negotiations with the United States back in 2014.
Miguel Díaz-Canel in his speech after being elected president assured that “the revolution goes on and remains alive” and that there will be “no return to capitalism”. He also confirmed that he will keep the state monopoly which gives limited access to private enterprises and apply political repressions (which is what the former revolutionaries expect). This way he wanted to silence the voices which hoped that the insufficient reforms of Raúl Castro will lead to a change in the way the country is governed.
“In order to get to the place where he is now, it is mandatory to follow the script. And he’s very good at that”, claims Nora Gámez Torres, a journalist from Miami Herald. It’s difficult to say, howerer, what he really thinks. He never deviates from the party line.
The successor of Raúl Castro faces a lot of challenges. Cuba is the fastest-ageing society in Latin America. A lot of young people dream of emigrating and the country’s economy suffered from the crisis in Venezuela. There have been financial cuts in health services and education. Investments, on the other hand, have halted since Donald Trump came to power in America (he is restrained in his contacts with Cuba).
According to José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the opposition group UNPACU, the society will expect the new president to be efficient. A lot of Cubans already hope that he will manage the task of monetary unification (combining two currencies on the island into one, exchangeable) and will help in the process of licensing private enterprises.