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New President, Same Old Cuba

Diaz-Canel (left) with Raul Castro. Photo by VOA News.

After more than 40 years, Cuba has officially elected a new president who is not of the Castro bloodline. Miguel Diaz-Canel took his place as leader of the island last month in what has been described as a coronation more so than an election. Diaz-Canel was, unsurprisingly, the only candidate nominated by the Communist Party of Cuba and is expected to possess rulership over the country for the next ten years.

Prior to becoming Cuba’s leader, he served as minister of higher education before becoming the nation’s first vice president in 2015. Diaz-Canel has a long history with the Castro regime and seems to have had his eye on leadership for a while. In 1997 he became the youngest ever member of the Politburo, a select committee of 14 party members who acted as Fidel Castro’s senior advisers. He even headed the Communist Party of Cuba in the province of Villa Clara from 1994 to 2003.

Although Diaz-Canel has been viewed as a more moderate politician than his revolutionary predecessors, he is actually a lot more like the Castro brothers than many would like to believe. The reason he was able to work his way up to his current position in the communist nation is because of his proven loyalty to the national party and its leaders. If it is his dedication that has brought him this far, it is highly unlikely that he will abandon his political upbringing for the sake of feeding the hopes of the Cuban people. Even though Diaz-Canel now holds the title of president, Raúl Castro hasn’t fully left the scene. The youngest Castro brother is still calling the shots since he commands the Communist Party and the country’s armed forces.  

There is a popular misconception that gives the notion that the absence of the Castros in Cuban government and politics will change Cuba, but that simply isn’t true. Unbeknownst to many, Cuba’s current president is not the first non-Castro to hold the position since the revolution. When the Cuban revolution ended in 1959 a man named Osvaldo Dorticos Torrado was president. While Dorticos held the title for the next 17 years, true governing power lied in the armed forces, which the Castros controlled. In any communist regime, true power lies in the military, and in order for there to really be any change in the Cuba we see today there must be a shift in ideology and not just leadership.

Young Diaz-Canel with Fidel Castro. Courtesy of Vanguardia.

Diaz-Canel has even made it publicly clear that the public should not expect any action from him that weighs against the judgment of the still-standing Castro brother. “I affirm to this assembly that comrade Raul will head the decisions for the present and the future of the nation,” he announced. “Raul remains at the front of the political vanguard.”

Currently, Cuba is in economic crisis and many are hoping that Diaz-Canel will be the answer to their prayers. However, not much can be expected to change in that area because the new president has vowed to prevent the restoration of capitalism in the nation, meaning Cuba’s state-run economy will remain under the tight control of Communists Party loyalists.

Cuba’s relations with the U.S. will likely maintain their complex nature given that Diaz-Canel said in November that “we continue to be open to relations” but changed his tune in March saying that the new administration in the U.S. “has offended Cuba.”

 It’s been six decades since the end of the Cuban revolution brought Fidel Castro into power. While the appointment of Diaz-Canel is a historical landmark for Cuba and for the world, his strong links to the ruling Communist Party means no significant change should be expected on the island anytime soon.

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