Cuba heads for life sans Castros
86-year-old president hands over baton to new generation, ending 6 decades of castros rule
Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez, who turns 58 on Friday, would be the first non-Castro to hold Cuba’s top government office since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul who is expected to step down tomorrow. Diaz-Canel will confront a stagnant economy, decaying infrastructure and a hostile US administration. Here is a look at his credentials: 1982 Obtained an electrical engineering degree 2009 Summoned to Havana to
serve as minister for higher education 2013 The national assembly promoted him to first vicepresident
Served military service and on a mission to Nicaragua Headed Communist
Party of Cuba in Villa Clara province from 1994 to 2003 Rose through party ranks, and was promoted to the 14-member Politburo A self-professed Beatles fan, described as down-to-earth and accessible
supporter of wider Internet access and a more vibrant media Open to relations with the United States
Cuban President Raul Castro steps down tomorrow, passing the baton to a new generation in a transition that brings to a close the Castro brothers’ six-decade grip on power.
“We have come a long way... so that our children, those of the present and those of the future, will be happy,” Castro said in one of his last speeches as leader last month.
The 86-year-old has been in power since 2006, when he took over after illness sidelined his brother Fidel, who seized power in the 1959 revolution.
Between them, father of the nation Fidel and younger brother Raul ruled Cuba for nearly 60 years, making the Caribbean island a key player in the Cold War and helping keep communism afloat despite the collapse of the Soviet Union.
On Thursday, that chapter of history will come to a close when the National Assembly elects a new president of the Council of State, catapulting the island into the post-Castro era.
The Assembly will begin gathering on Wednesday, although the vote itself will take place on Thursday, with members widely expected to select current First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a gray-haired 57-year-old who has climbed the party ranks and has been Raul Castro’s right-hand man since 2013.
“There will be a sense of renewal, and there will be a sense of continuity,” said Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
The outgoing president will remain at the head of the Communist Party until its next congress in 2021 — when he turns 90 — time enough to ensure a controlled transition and to watch over his protege when, inevitably, old-guard communists challenge his reforms.
Cuban political scientist Esteban Morales said the two would likely work in tandem, with Castro continuing to act as the ideological figurehead, while Diaz-Canel concentrates on the “very complex and difficult” task of running the government.
The heir to the Castros will be faced with modernizing the economy at a time when Cuba’s key regional ally Venezuela, its source of cheap oil, is stumbling through an acute economic crisis, and amid a resurgence of the US embargo under President Donald Trump.
On the island, the transition is fuelling moderate debate between fervent Castro-ites and their critics, who expect few changes after the election, in which they have no direct participation.
Cubans last month elected a new National Assembly, whose 605 members are tasked with voting in the new president.
“They are changing the government, but it’s still the same kind, it’s always going to be influenced by the Castros. Even if it’s another man, it’s always going to be a Castro government,” said Ariel Ortiz, an unemployed 24-year-old in Havana.
Retiree Raul Garcia, 79, said: “They say that Raul is leaving the presidency, and that another, younger, man will come. That’s logical. But Raul is not leaving, Raul will always be with us, like Fidel.” —
Vice-President miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, right, is widely expected to take Raul Castro’s place as Cuba’s next president after tomorrow’s vote. —