For as long as I have been alive, a Castro has been the leader of Cuba. That will no longer be. Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel as president in 2006, will remain head of the Communist Party, but will step down as Cuba’s President. Cuba’s National Assembly has elected Miguel Diaz-Canel to become president, meaning a leader not named Castro will take the office for the first time in six decades.
Diaz-Canel is Raul Castro’s hand-picked successor — and, at 57, he is nearly 30 years younger than his octogenarian predecessor. This move is “the centerpiece of an effort to ensure that the country’s single-party system outlasts the aging revolutionaries who created it,” per the AP.
Cuban television announcers used buzzwords such as ‘unity’ and ‘continuity’ in their broadcasts. State media tweeted under the hashtag #SomosContinuidad (We are continuity). The message to the populous was clear: The end of an era with a Castro as head of state does not mean the end of Cuba’s communist system.
Díaz-Canel, an engineer by training, has sent mixed signals about whether he is a reformer or a reactionary. Whatever his instincts may be, he will be influenced by forces that pull in opposite directions. On the one hand, the economy needs to be unshackled if it is to provide Cubans with better living standards. On the other, the Communist Party is loth to give up control, or to allow the rise of an elite that might compete with it.