Cuba proposed Miguel Diaz-Canel as the sole candidate to replace Raul Castro as president on Wednesday, which will make him the island’s first non-Castro leader since the 1959 revolution.
The proposal is subject to a vote later in the day by the national assembly and the result will be formally announced on Thursday. Such votes are usually unanimously or nearly unanimously ratified.
Castro, 86, will remain first secretary of the Communist Party, a potentially more powerful position.
Diaz-Canel, who currently is the First Vice President, has spent three decades climbing to the summit of the Communist Party and is ideally placed to continue to implement the economic reforms initiated by his mentor.
Cuba proposed Miguel Diaz-Canel (right) as sole candidate to replace Raul Castro (left) as president on Wednesday, which will make him the island’s first non-Castro leader since the 1959 revolution
Castro (left) will remain first secretary of the Communist Party, a potentially more powerful position.
How much influence Diaz-Canel will actually wield is an open question that has many observers looking at his past for clues since power in Communist Cuba has long flowed from personalities more than institutions.
‘There is a tradition in Cuba of strong men at the head of the State,’ said Cuban watcher Arturo Lopez-Levy of the University of Texas-Rio Grande.
But ‘the profile of Miguel Diaz-Canel seems weaker,’ Lopez-Levy added. ‘He has no more power than what he has been given.’
Until March, Diaz-Canel had said nothing to the Cuban people about the type of president he would be.
But he has mentioned that he is a fan of The Beatles, and has advocated greater openness to the internet and a less restricted press.
The white-haired, jean-wearing Diaz-Canel had been seen at greatest length in a leaked video of a Communist Party meeting where he sombrely pledged to shutter some independent media and labelled some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.
That image has begun to change slightly this year as Diaz-Canel stepped into the moderate limelight offered by Cuba’s Soviet-style state media.
With his public comments in March, many Cubans got a glimpse of him as a flesh-pressing local politician, an image familiar to residents of the central province where he was born and spent nine years in a role akin to a governor.
Diaz-Canel would be the first non-Castro to hold Cuba’s top government office since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro (pictured) and his younger brother Raul
Raised and educated in the city of Santa Clara, Diaz-Canel graduated from the local university in 1982 and performed three years of obligatory military service. In 1987 he joined the Young Communists’ Union.
He also went on to work as a professor of engineering at the University of Santa Clara and travelled to Nicaragua as part of a government-run mission to support that country’s socialist revolution.
Santa Clara residents remember him wearing his hair long and openly admiring the Beatles, who were frowned on by ardent communists who considered the group as representative of the decadent culture of Cuba’s capitalist enemies.
Nonetheless, the young professor was named first party secretary in Villa Clara province in 1994 and gained a reputation as a hard-working public servant with a conspicuously modest lifestyle.
Residents said that Diaz-Canel was the first official they remembered who didn’t move to a new government-provided home after accepting the position of first secretary.
Diaz-Canel travelled the city on a bicycle during the economic crisis spawned when the fall of the Soviet Union cut off subsidies for Cuba, and he accepted visits at all hours at his home and office from residents with complaints or suggestions.
When he finished work, residents said, he would start his shifts with the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, a mix of a neighbourhood watch committee and local militia.
‘Some comrades didn’t want to put him on watch because he would be overwhelmed with work, but he would say, ”I’m a citizen of this country and I’ll stand watch like anyone else,”’ said Liliana Perez, whose house faces the home where Diaz-Canel lived with his wife and two children.
The proposal is subject to a vote later in the day by the national assembly and the result will be formally announced on Thursday. Pictured: Diaz-Canel on Wednesday
Diaz-Canel had been seen at greatest length in a leaked video of a Communist Party meeting where he sombrely pledged to shutter some independent media and labelled some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion
In 1996, he began appearing on a local radio program during which he would take two hours of live phone calls from people complaining about problems ranging from bad state restaurants to pothole-rutted side streets, radio journalist Xiomara Rodriguez said.
In a country where the state controls most daily activities, Diaz-Canel also made surprise visits to government-run establishments such as the local funeral parlor to check on the quality of services.
Diaz-Canel also became known for pushing back against the intolerant tendencies of the Communist Party, an organisation with strains of deep social conservatism and conformity.
As first secretary of Villa Clara, he was an active supporter of El Menjunje, a cultural centre that hosted rock ‘n’ roll shows and became a focus of activities by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Cubans, including some of the country’s first drag shows.
Diaz-Canel was known for bringing his children to the club, an unusual assertion of support in a society with deeply rooted antipathy toward homosexuals.
Two of Diaz-Canel’s children have gone on to play in Polaroid, a well-known Cuban rock band.
In 2003, Diaz-Canel was named first secretary of the eastern province of Holguin, where he ran into complaints.
Diaz-Canel also became known for pushing back against the intolerant tendencies of the Communist Party, an organisation with strains of deep social conservatism and conformity
Some say he focused too much of his six years in office on beautifying the city centre while neglecting the needs of poor and working people.
In 2003, Diaz-Canel was also named to the Communist Party’s Politburo, one of its highest-ranking bodies.
Six years later, he was named minister of higher education and was praised for modernising curricula and introducing computer technology to many university programs. He was also known as one of the first high-ranking officials to bring a laptop to government meetings.
In 2012, conservative Communist Party officials shut down ‘Young Cuba,’ a blog run by young academics at the University of Matanzas who supported Cuba’s socialist system but who criticised corruption, inefficiency and resistance to change.
Diaz-Canel called a meeting between the university rector and the blog’s founders and pointedly asked them, ‘What do you need to keep running ‘Young Cuba?”
The blog was unblocked and remains an important forum for debate among Cuban intellectuals calling for gradual reform.
Diaz-Canel also intervened when a government official denied a travel permit to the U.S. for Humberto Rios Labrada, a sustainable agriculture expert who won the U.S-based Goldman Environmental Prize, said Gregory Biniowski, a Cuba-based Canadian lawyer who nominated Rios Labrada for the honour.
As first vice president he has mostly stayed out of view, but many observers see that as a wise strategy for survival in a system run by ageing revolutionaries who have ended the careers of many young politicians who rose to prominence early in their careers.
The reign of the Castros: How brothers Fidel and Raul led a revolution and controlled Cuba for decades
As Raul Castro passes the presidency on to his mentee, Miguel Diaz-Canel, it marks the end of the reign of Castros at the helm of politics in Cuba.
Raul became president in 2008 when his older brother, Fidel Castro, formally handed over power as his health deteriorated. Fidel died in 2016 aged 90.
The brothers overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, were exiled in Mexico and survived a disastrous start to their rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana on January 1959.
At age 32, Fidel became the youngest leader in Latin America and put his younger brother Raul in charge of the armed forces.
Brothers Fidel (left) and Raul (right) Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, were exiled in Mexico and survived a disastrous start to their rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana on January 1959
Despite initial setbacks, the bearded guerrillas operating in the eastern mountains steadily gained support across the country. Pictured: Fidel is seen with his brother Raul Castro (left) and Camilo Cienfuegos while operating in the Mountains of Eastern Cuba in 1957
Despite initial setbacks, the bearded guerrillas, operating in the eastern mountains, steadily gained support across the country.
On January 1, 1959, Batista fled and Fidel became the unquestioned leader of Cuba, with his younger brother put in charge of the armed forces.
Fidel’s government initially executed or imprisoned many foes, and veered to Soviet-backed socialism in the early 1960s.
Cuba backed revolutions across Latin America, and while most of those failed, the Castros’ resistance to U.S. domination inspired millions across the continent and beyond.
Fidel’s control survived repeated U.S. plots to overthrow or kill him, and even the hardships that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which had kept the island’s economy afloat.
But illness finally forced Fidel to turn over power in 2006 to Raul, who formally became president two years later.
Raul announced that he will step aside as president in April – though he plans to remain in what is probably a more important position: head of Cuba’s lone permitted party, the Communist Party.
But illness finally forced Fidel to turn over power in 2006 to Raul, who formally became president two years later. Pictured: The brothers in 2011