Havana: After burying Fidel Castro, Cuba is 15 months away from seeing his brother, Raul, give up the presidency. For the first time in almost 60 years, the president won’t be named Castro.
The man in line for the job is vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel, who is relatively young at 56, outside the small circle of guerrilla war veterans and not a family member. The grey-haired Diaz-Canel, who favours jeans or more formal suits and ties, has been a discreet communist party operator who lacks Fidel Castro’s charisma and Raul’s military experience.
But he has been “a good soldier in the shadows," Christopher Sabatini, an international policy lecturer at New York’s Columbia University, told AFP. President Raul Castro named Diaz-Canel as his deputy in 2013. While Raul Castro looks healthy at 85, he has vowed to step down in February 2018 during the next communist party congress, though he would likely remain the party’s chief.
His brother, who was buried on Sunday after dying on 25 November at age 90, clung to power from 1959 until an illness forced him to hand the presidency to Raul in 2006. Tall and affable, Diaz-Canel lacks the oratory skills of Fidel Castro but Raul gave him a ringing endorsement when he named him vice-president in 2013.
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“Comrade Diaz-Canel is neither a novice nor an improviser," Raul Castro said. The electronics engineer is an advocate of a more critical press and an opening of the Internet on the island, where a tiny fraction of the population has web access.
“Today with the development of social media ... and the internet, prohibiting something is almost an impossible pipe-dream. It doesn’t make sense," the vice-president once said.
Diaz-Canel, who is from the central province of Villa Clara, gradually worked his way up the echelons of Cuba’s single party. In 2003, he entered the influential 15-member politburo, a key step for any official with higher aspirations. Six years later, Raul Castro named the former university professor as his higher education minister. In March 2012, he became one of the eight vice-presidents on the council of ministers. He rose to the more powerful post of first vice president on the council of state a year later, replacing veteran revolution fighter Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 86. Since then, Diaz-Canel has often traveled abroad, either with Raul Castro or as the president’s representative.