Published: Fri, April 20, 2018
Global Media | By Jackie Banks

Cuba: Miguel Díaz-Canel to Become President as Raúl Castro Steps Down

Cuba: Miguel Díaz-Canel to Become President as Raúl Castro Steps Down

Cuban Communist Party stalwart Miguel Diaz-Canel replaced Raul Castro as president on Thursday, a new chapter for the island after almost sixty years of rule by the Castro brothers but a change that is aimed at preserving Cuban socialism.

In Washington, a White House official said the Trump administration had no expectations Cuban people would have any greater freedoms under the new "hand-picked" leader, and had no intention of softening its policy toward the island's government.

The vote on Thursday marked the end of an era for Cuba, making Diaz-Canel the first person outside the Castro family to rule the country in 59 years. He headed Villa Clara Province from 1994 to 2003 and became the first secretary of the more populous province of Holguin in eastern Cuba in 2003, as well as becoming a member of the Politburo of Communist Party of Cuba.

Castro, who was president from 2008 when he took over from his ailing older brother Fidel, will retain considerable clout as he will remain head of the Communist Party until a congress in 2021.

Cuba, he said, would remain "olive green" in honor of the military fatigues worn by the victorious revolutionaries of 1959.

He is the island's first leader born after the revolution, and will be 58 on Friday. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. This image of being friendly to ordinary people has been likened in Cuba to that of the Castro brothers during hard times. The options are limited, as Diaz-Canel is the only candidate for the presidency. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency. Worldwide observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes after he officially takes office on Thursday. He has failed to fix the generally unproductive and highly subsidized state-run businesses that, along with a Soviet-model bureaucracy, employ three of every four Cubans.

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Castro's moves to open the economy have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous shows of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens.

"I am here to work, not to make promises", he said.

A poster of Fidel Castro and Cuba's President Raul Castro stands in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

"Comrade Raul Castro has more than honored the enormous responsibility entrusted by the Cuban people to take the witness from Commander Fidel Castro, performing with wisdom, loyalty, and courage; as he did in all the tasks that history put him in front, as a combatant of a thousand battles with Fidel, since July 26, the Granma and the Sierra Maestra, with the triumph of the Revolution, for nearly six decades of anti-imperialist resistance and integral progress of the Cuban people", Maduro said.

The Candidacy Commission also nominated another six vice presidents of the Council of State, Cuba's highest government body.

State media went into overdrive Wednesday with a single message: Cuba's system is continuing in the face of change.

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