Miguel Diaz-Canel replaces Raul Castro as Cuba’s president
Cuban lawmakers on Thursday transferred power to new President Miguel Diaz-Canel, marking a major generational shift on the island nation ruled for almost 60 years by the late Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul.
Diaz-Canel, 57, a longtime stalwart of the ruling Communist Party, was heartily endorsed for the role by outgoing President Raul Castro, who has led the country since his brother relinquished the top post 10 years ago.
Fidel Castro died at age 90 in 2016, but the succession of his sibling ensured that the ideals of the storied comandante would remain paramount.
In a speech before Cuba’s National Assembly, Diaz-Canel vowed to maintain “continuity to the Cuban Revolution,” a theme that state media have repeatedly emphasized in recent days as the turnover in power approached.
Few Cubans and outside experts expect a major transformation in Cuban governance under the leadership of Diaz-Canel, a relatively low-key party functionary who lacks the revolutionary pedigree of the Castro brothers. The new president is widely described as a hardworking bureaucrat unlikely to veer from the principles of the Castros’ rule.
But the transition from the Castro era has major symbolic significance in Cuba, which has been ruled by one of the two brothers since the 1959 revolution that ousted the government of U.S.-backed strongman Fulgencio Batista.
Many Cubans have said they hope that a new generation of leaders would be more attentive to the needs of the nation’s technologically savvy youth, who often express frustration with ruling-party orthodoxy and a lack of economic opportunities.
The new president hailed his 86-year-old predecessor and patron, who is to remain for at least three years as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, a crucial position that will keep a Castro seated at the core of of the island’s leadership.
Diaz-Canel was the sole candidate nominated for the presidency by Cuba’s more than 600-member National Assembly.
The new leader faces enormous challenges as his five-year term begins. Cuba is mired in an economic slump amid worsening relations with longtime adversary Washington since the advent of the Trump administration.
In his comments, Diaz-Canel proclaimed that Havana would not back down in the face of what he labeled “the threats from the powerful imperialist neighbor,” an allusion to the United States.
“Here there is no room for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,” he said. “We will always be disposed to have dialogue and cooperation … under terms of respect and equal treatment.”
Diaz-Canel said: “There will be no space for those who aspire for a restoration of capitalism. … [We] will defend the revolution.”
A robust and often-animated Castro, in a rambling, 90-minute speech, assailed an “aggressive” and “threatening” tone from Washington under Trump.
The Trump administration has imposed new restrictions on U.S.-Cuba commercial and tourism ties that had been liberalized under President Obama. The Obama White House reached a ground-breaking accord with Cuba to renew diplomatic relations between the two historic Cold War rivals.
The diplomatic opening from Obama raised expectations of an eventual full normalization of relations that could result in an end to the almost 60-year U.S. embargo on most U.S. commerce with Cuba. But Trump’s rollback of the Obama detente has dashed those prospects and obliged Cuban authorities to seek alternative avenues of economic development.
Meanwhile, a series of mysterious illnesses suffered by U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba has resulted in a severe cutback of the American diplomatic staff on the island and has further aggravated binational relations. Cuba denies any role in alleged “sonic attacks,” and says it has cooperated with U.S. investigators seeking a cause for the mystery ailments.
During his 10-year rule, Raul Castro embarked on an aggressive campaign of market reforms of Cuba’s command economy, expanding private ownership, facilitating investment from the country’s large diaspora community and allowing Cubans greater freedom to travel abroad. The use of cellphones and computers on the island has also grown substantially.
But the Cuban economy has stagnated lately and the government has curtailed approvals for new private enterprises in the hospitality sector and other industries. Cuba currently suffers from slow growth, declining exports and the government’s failure to reform inefficient state-run enterprises and a cumbersome dual-currency system.
Diaz-Canel faces the challenge of reinvigorating the economy, but it is unclear whether he plans to expand upon his predecessor’s market reforms.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert referred to the transfer of power from Castro to Diaz-Canel as undemocratic.
“We are disappointed that the Cuban government opted to silence independent voices and maintain its repressive monopoly on power rather than allow its people a meaningful choice through free, fair and competitive elections,” Nauert said. “Cuba’s new president should take concrete steps to improve the lives of the Cuban people, to respect human rights, and to cease repression and allow greater political and economic freedoms. We urge the new president to listen and respond to Cuban citizens’ demands for a more prosperous, free and democratic Cuba.”
Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington and Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
4:25 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction from State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
2:35 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times reporting.
This article was originally published at 7:05 a.m.
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