Miguel Diaz-Canel, First Cuban President in Post-Castro Era Selected, Will U.S.-Cuba Relations Improve?
Last Thursday marked the beginning of a new era for Cuba, the communist state picked Miguel Diaz-Canel as the country’s new president and the first president after the Castro era.
Diaz-Canel is a former vice president for Raul Castro. Diaz-Canel’s presidency marks the end of the Castro era which began with the 1959 revolution. Raul chose Diaz-Canel as his successor, and his decision was approved by the Cuban National Assembly after gaining 99.83 percent of the vote.
The 86-year-old Raul Castro, the younger brother of the deceased Fidel Castro, will remain as an influential figure in government, with Raul often having the final say on affairs. Raul is still the head of the Communist Party until 2021.
“Raul Castro, as the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, will lead the decisions of greatest transcendence for the present and the future of this country,” said Diaz-Canel as he addressed the Cuban National Assembly in Havana on Thursday.
Fidel handed over power to Raul in 2006. The iconic Fidel Castro passed away in November 2016 at 90.
Who is Miguel Diaz-Canel?
Diaz-Canel is not a relatively unfamiliar name in a country which has been associated with the Castro family for almost 60 years. Diaz-Canel wasn’t born yet when Fidel ousted Fulgencio Batista during the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Diaz-Canel started his political career after graduating with a degree in electrical engineering. He joined the Communist Youth League in Santa Clara and took up a teaching job at a university. He then became the second secretary of the Youth League at 33.
The former higher education minister is considered a less radical figure compared to the Castros. He has at times shown support for academics and bloggers inferring a possibly more open Cuba under his presidency. However, a leaked video in 2017 of a communist party meeting suggested otherwise. According to the Guardian, in the video, he slammed hard-line rebels, independent media and labeled some foreign embassies outposts of subversion.
Everything will not change at least for some time now
Many Cubans argued that the new president will not change anything.
A new president isn’t going to change anything, so it’s not important for me,” said Maria Victoria Esteves.
Not all Cubans were even aware of the fact that their country would have a new president. “I’ve just found out talking to you!” Yadiel Sintra, a Cuban builder, expressed his surprise.
What to expect
The economy is still the main priority the new president must focus on. Many hope Diaz-Canel will continue Raul Castro’s controversial economic reform program which opened Cuba up to foreign investment without sacrificing the core value of the Communist Party. The slow pace of change has frustrated Cubans, but if the reform goes on too quickly, he will face criticism from conservative communist politicians.
A second major issue is freedom of expression. Not all Cubans have access to the internet. Diaz-Canel has promised to improve internet access for Cubans. Opening up the internet to Cubans, however, means potentially granting more power to independent media and dissident voices. As the leaked Communist party video showed, such freedoms are not easily welcomed.
The future of U.S-Cuba relationship
Much of the world praised Raul Castro for normalizing Cuba’s relationship with its chief rival, the U.S, during the Barack Obama presidency. While U.S. and Cuba relations thawed, travel bans were lifted and embassies were opened, the full U.S. – Cuba embargo is still in place.
The victory of Trump threatens to freeze the warming Cuba – U.S. relations. In late 2017, Trump tightened the embargo and expelled 15 Cuban diplomats in response to the mysterious illnesses that struck workers at the American embassy in Cuba.
What effect a Diaz-Canel presidency will have on U.S-Cuba relations is unclear. Diaz-Canel himself was not involved in the normalization effort, as stated by Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy adviser for national security.
Rhodes, who led the U.S delegation in secret negotiations with Cuba to improve relations under Obama, raised concern about what Trump’s hardline Cuba approach means for the future of U.S. – Cuba relations.
“It’s not just the person at the top, there’s all manner of positions that are going to turn over,” Rhodes said. “My concern is that what Trump did is that it was the worst possible timing to empower hardliners in that transition who can now say, ‘See, we can’t count on the US.