Cuban exiles in Miami's Little Havana view Cuban president as Castro's puppet

Glen Norman
April 20, 2018

The silver-haired Diaz-Canel, 57 - a top Communist Party figure who has served as first vice president since 2013 - will become the island's first leader born after the 1959 revolution, and the first in 60 years who is not named Castro.

The National Assembly began a meeting Wednesday where Raul Castro plans to hand the presidency to a chosen successor.

Cuba turns to a model Communist Party official, Miguel Diaz-Canel, to steer it through a period of uncertainty when it finally turns the page on the Castro era in a vote on Thursday.

Ultimately though, Diaz-Canel appears to be a consensus candidate hand-picked by Castro who earned trust by working his way through the ranks for over three decades and sticking to the party line on key political and economic issues, analysts say.

El niño en rojo
El niño en rojo

The National Assembly was due to vote later in the day on the proposal to replace him with Diaz-Canel, a 57-year-old engineer who is now first vice president. As a result, Castro is nearly certain to remain the most powerful person in Cuba for the time being.

The longstanding U.S. economic embargo on the island, maintained in the years since the Cold War to try to pressure Havana into change, is commonly referred to as a blockade by the Cuban government.

The results will be announced Wednesday, April 18, as the session of parliamentarians continues throughout the day. "The election in Cuba, that's a joke".

Raul Castro is leaving his post after serving two five-year terms in office.

That dexterity will be crucial if Diaz-Canel wants to push through changes along the sort of careful trajectory Castro has set enough to make Cuban socialism sustainable but not so much they destroy the system. Trump has cast a cloud over the detente reached in 2014 between Raul Castro and former US President Barack Obama. The new president and his colleagues were due to be sworn in on Thursday.

It falls on the 57th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when the Central Intelligence Agency tried to overthrow the leader of the 1959 revolution, Fidel Castro, an episode Havana has long proclaimed as American imperialism's first great defeat in Latin America.

Diaz-Canel smiled and joined the applause of the president.

"He broke the psychological barrier with more market-oriented reforms", said LeoGrande, "but it is unfinished business".

Cuba's economy remains smaller than it was in 1985, when it had the support of Communist ally, the Soviet Union, according to one study.

State-run media and government-controlled Twitter accounts are promoting what is expected to be a historic handover of the presidency to the first non-Castro to lead the country in almost 60 years.

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