Cuba heads for life sans Cas­tros

86-year-old pres­i­dent hands over baton to new gen­er­a­tion, end­ing 6 decades of cas­tros rule

Khaleej Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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

Out­spo­ken

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.” —

AP file

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. —

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