Af­ter Cas­tro death, Raul suc­ces­sor waits in the wings

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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 fa­vors 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 said. 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 Novem­ber 25 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. “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.

But he is not the only mem­ber of the younger gen­er­a­tion to have risen in ranks in re­cent years. For­eign Min­is­ter Bruno Ro­driguez, 58, was a key player in the diplo­matic rap­proche­ment with the United States and the Euro­pean Union. In a sign of his grow­ing in­flu­ence, Ro­driguez ap­peared with the Cas­tro family, top mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and Di­azCanel out­side the armed forces min­istry in Ha­vana last week to watch Fidel’s ashes de­part on a cross-coun­try trip to his burial place in eastern Cuba on Sun­day.

Ro­driguez and Diaz-Canel were the only mem­bers of the new gen­er­a­tion of com­mu­nist of­fi­cials at the sym­bolic farewell. An­other rel­a­tively young operator is Marino Murillo, 55, an econ­o­mist who is in charge of the cru­cial but mod­est eco­nomic re­forms that Raul Cas­tro has im­ple­mented. Raul’s only son, Colonel Ale­jan­dro Cas­tro Espin, 51, is also gain­ing in­flu­ence in the in­te­rior min­istry. All of them are keep­ing a low pro­file. Others who ap­peared too am­bi­tious in the past lost their jobs un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously, such as for­mer vice pres­i­dent Car­los Lage and for­mer for­eign min­is­ter Fe­lipe Perez Roque.

Econ­omy cru­cial

For Ted Pic­cone, a se­nior fel­low at the Wash­ing­ton-based Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion think thank, Diaz-Canel is the natural po­lit­i­cal heir ap­par­ent. “I don’t see any other ri­val. I don’t see any other sce­nario, but we’ve also seen in the past younger lead­ers groomed for lead­er­ship and they’ve been elim­i­nated or re­moved from power,” he said. To help his suc­ces­sor, Raul Cas­tro needs to speed up the re­forms to fix the trou­bled econ­omy, Pic­cone said. “The le­git­i­macy of the post-Raul govern­ment will de­pend on a much bet­ter eco­nomic per­for­mance,” he said.

Sa­ba­tini said Diaz-Canel faces “three com­pet­ing pres­sures”: The old guard in the polit­buro, the “younger gen­er­a­tion of party ap­pa­ratchiks who want change” and the mil­i­tary. But Raul Cas­tro would be watch­ing over him, as he would not be com­pletely re­tired as party chief. “Raul’s and Machado’s sup­port can prop him up” as pres­i­dent, said Ar­turo Lopez-Levy, a Cuba expert at the Univer­sity of Texas. “Once he is in this position, it will be up to him to nav­i­gate suc­cess­fully the task of build­ing a con­sen­sus with­out hu­mil­i­at­ing any of the fac­tions that form the Cuban lead­er­ship,” he said. — AFP

DEN­VER: US Rep Keith El­li­son (D-Minn), ad­dresses a fo­rum on the fu­ture of the Demo­cratic Party fea­tur­ing can­di­dates run­ning to be the next chair of the Demo­cratic Na­tional com­mit­tee in Den­ver. — AP

HA­VANA: Fidel Cas­tro sits as he clasps hands with his brother, Cuban Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro (right) and sec­ond sec­re­tary of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, Jose Ra­mon Machado Ven­tura, mo­ments be­fore the play­ing of the Com­mu­nist party hymn dur­ing the clos­ing cer­e­monies of the 7th Con­gress of the Cuban Com­mu­nist Party, in Ha­vana, Cuba, on April 19, 2016. — AP

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