Castro Out: Cuban Government Selects New Leader

Inside the country's vote for a new president
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 18, 2018 10:53 AM CDT
Updated Apr 18, 2018 4:01 PM CDT
Castro Out: Cuba's Unusual 2-Day Path to a New Leader
In this March 17, 2015 file photo, Cuba's President Raul Castro listens to the playing of national anthems during his welcome ceremony at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela.   (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

The Cuban government on Wednesday selected 57-year-old First Vice President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez as the sole candidate to succeed President Raul Castro in a transition aimed at ensuring that the country's single-party system outlasts the aging revolutionaries who created it. The certain approval of Diaz-Canel by members of the unfailingly unanimous National Assembly will install someone from outside the Castro family in the country's highest government office for the first time in nearly six decades, the AP reports. In what the AP initially called an "unusual two-day process," Diaz-Canel will officially take office Thursday; the new national leadership will be officially announced that day, the anniversary of the defeat of US-backed invaders at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. What to know:

  • More on the process: The Cuban National Assembly has generally met and selected the president in one day. Its votes are nearly always anonymous and seen as reflecting the will of the country's top leadership. Cuba's constitution allows for any member of the 605-seat legislature to be elected as head of the council of state, but Diaz-Canel had long been seen as the overwhelming favorite. The new president will take over for the 86-year-old Castro, who is stepping down after two five-year terms. The Candidacy Commission also nominated another six vice presidents of the Council of State, Cuba's highest government body.
  • The successor: Diaz-Canel gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. There, people described him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency. Most Cubans know their first vice president as an uncharismatic figure who until recently maintained a public profile so low it was virtually nonexistent.

  • Castro out? Not entirely. Castro may be stepping down, but he isn't giving up power. He remains head of Cuba's Communist Party, a position that leaves him with broad authority—including much oversight of the man who is replacing him as president. He is expected to hold the position until 2021. Cuba's single-party system gives the Communist Party a role vastly more important than in any multi-party country, and it's often hard to tell where the party stops and government begins, reports the AP.
  • Echoing that: "This changing of the presidency from the hands of the aged Raúl Castro to the heir apparent, first vice president Miguel Díaz-Canel, isn't, as some believe, a momentous occasion," writes Fabiola Santiago for the Miami Herald. "It's a symbolic one and a clever move, as it gives the perception of change when in reality the Castro family remains firmly in power. This maneuver only promises more of the same." But she still sees some cause for hope.
  • What change should come: In an op-ed for the New York Times, Christopher Sabatini sees the economy as a place where Castro's successor can make his mark. Cuba has a dual currency system made up of a domestic peso and a separate international peso that's used for foreign trade. "Unifying the currencies will cause upheaval in the economy, increasing the prices of imported goods and ending the double-booking system that many businesses use to keep themselves artificially solvent, leading to inflation and unemployment," he writes. But "modernizing and advancing the Cuban economy requires addressing this wrenching change." And the US should help, he argues.
(More Raul Castro stories.)

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