Cuban Communist Party chooses Miguel Diaz-Canel to replace Raul Castro as leader

19 April 2021, 17:44

Raul Castro, right, raises the hand of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel after he was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party at the closing session of Cuban Communist Party’s 8th Congress at the Convention Palace in Havana, Cuba
Cuba Communist Party. Picture: PA

Mr Diaz-Canel was never a guerrilla fighter and was for only a few years, like all Cubans of his generation, a soldier.

Cuba’s Communist Party congress has chosen Miguel Diaz-Canel to be its leader, adding the crucial post to the title of president that he assumed in 2018.

In both cases, he replaces his mentor Raul Castro, 89, sealing a political dynasty that had held power since the 1959 revolution.

Mr Diaz-Canel, who turns 61 on Tuesday, is a relative youngster compared with members of the generation that accompanied Fidel Castro in his battle against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and then stayed on in power for decade after decade while cementing a Soviet-style political system.

He was never a guerrilla fighter and was for only a few years, like all Cubans of his generation, a soldier.

Raul Castro waves to members at the VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba’s opening session, as Miguel Diaz-Canel, right, applauds at the Convention Palace, in Havana
Raul Castro at the VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba’s opening session in Havana, as Miguel Diaz-Canel, right, applauds (Ariel Ley Royero/ACN via AP)

Mr Diaz-Canel rose peacefully and diligently through the approved channels.

Born a year after the revolution in the west-central city of Santa Clara, he reportedly dabbled as a youth in minor unconformities – wearing long hair and following The Beatles in a communist nation tightly aligned with the Soviet Union that then frowned upon them as an instrument of cultural imperialism.

He earned an engineering degree and dedicated himself to official politics, rising to a senior post in the Union of Young Communists and then through a series of bureaucratic positions in Cuba’s provinces, where he gained a reputation as a pragmatic administrator with an amiable, informal manner in dealing with the public.

In 2009, a year after Raul Castro formally replaced Fidel as Cuba’s president, Mr Diaz-Canel became minister of higher education.

In 2012, he rose to one of Cuba’s vice presidencies and soon thereafter was named first vice president.

A string of other promising young officials over the years had been seen as heirs apparent to the Castros, only to fall because they pretended to too much power too quickly, dabbled in questionable deals or were caught in unguarded moments making indiscreet comments about the leadership.

But Mr Diaz-Canel did not appear to push, and he did not stumble.

He steadfastly defended the system against dissidents and US hostility while appearing open to pushes for limited reforms bubbling up from the populace – and at a pace that did not alarm his bosses.

Cuba’s president Miguel Diaz-Canel, left, attends a meeting in an art school during a tour in Las Tunas, Cuba
Miguel Diaz-Canel, left, has overseen the end of a clumsy system of dual currencies (Ismael Francisco/AP)

Taking over from Raul Castro as president in 2018, he nudged the accelerator forward on some reforms that the government had already begun to open in the once-wholly state-dominated economy – Cuba allowed more small private businesses and made life a little easier for some small-scale entrepreneurs.

In recent months, he has overseen the end of a clumsy system of dual currencies and a further opening to small business.

The new party congress was expected to go further.

Crucially for many, Cuba has finally allowed widespread use of the internet.

But there has been no opening at all to dissident political movements, even if control – as in recent years – has leaned towards harassment, surveillance and short-term jail spells rather than sending people to prison for decades.

By Press Association