Cuba's likely new leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel, faces economic and diplomatic challenges

Before becoming the heir apparent to ...

Posted: Apr 18, 2018 4:35 PM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 4:35 PM

Before becoming the heir apparent to Cuban President Raul Castro, when Miguel D-az-Canel was still climbing his way up the ranks of the Communist Party hierarchy in the island's provinces, he earned a nickname that stuck with him: "D-a y Noche," or Day and Night.

The moniker came from low-level government employees who found out the hard way that at any hour, D-az-Canel could show up unannounced to inspect whether workers were actually on the job and not pilfering supplies or taking a nap.

That fastidiousness and willingness to work around the clock may be key assets after D-az-Canel was nominated to become the next president of the Communist-run island when Raul Castro, 86, steps down Thursday.

It's the first time since the 1959 revolution that Cuba has a head of state not named Castro.

And it marks a long-awaited generational transition from the now-aging guerrilla fighters who seized power at the point of a gun to government bureaucrats who have lived their whole life under the Castros' socialist project.

Who would succeed Fidel and Raul Castro has been the subject of intense speculation in Cuba for decades and has led to the fall from grace of more than one official for seemingly vying for the job.

A steady ascension

An electrical engineer by training, D-az-Canel was born a year after Fidel Castro took power. Tall and gray-haired, with the physique of a former body builder who no longer hits the gym that often, D-az-Canel speaks in a soft monotone and rarely strays too far from the script in public appearances.

But while there were other, more dynamic members of his generation who years earlier appeared to have a better lock on the top job, D-az-Canel quietly made a name for himself as an efficient administrator while serving as the top Communist Party official for the provinces of Villa Clara and then Holgu-n, where Fidel and Raul Castro were born.

Raul Castro announced in 2013 he would serve a second and final five-year term as president and made clear his thoughts on who should succeed him.

"Comrade D-az-Canel isn't upstart or an improvisation," Raul Castro said in a speech to the National Assembly, the government body that elects the president of Cuba. "His trajectory has lasted nearly 30 years."

D-az-Canel was promoted to first vice president and undertook profile-raising trips to represent Cuba at the funeral of close ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and on official visits to fellow communist countries China and North Korea.

'We are defending our revolution'

When Cubans went to the polls in March to vote in single-party, single-candidate elections for the Cuban National Assembly, the international press in Cuba was encouraged by government officials to cover D-az-Canel as he voted in his hometown of Santa Clara.

D-az-Canel arrived at the polls wearing a short-sleeved shirt and walking hand-in-hand with his wife. Even though he was accompanied by bodyguards, some of whom had previously protected former Cuban President Fidel Castro, D-az-Canel seemed relaxed and confident.

He took his place at the end of the line outside the polling station, greeted men with handshakes and women with kisses on the cheek and posed for selfies with children.

Cuban state-run TV had live coverage of D-az-Canel voting, with the anchor referring to him as Cuba's president before quickly correcting herself.

"We are defending our process, we are defending our revolution, which continues to be threatened, which continues to be attacked," D-az-Canel told the cameras after voting.

Castro expected to stay on until at least 2021

Still, it's an open question as to how much power the new leader actually will exercise.

Raul Castro is expected to stay on until at least 2021 as the head of the Cuban Communist Party, which determines the long-term planning for the island's government.

It will be the first time since the creation of the positions that the head of the party is not also the president of the government in Cuba.

It also appears unlikely that D-az-Canel, who served briefly in the army, will be the top general of the island's army, which oversees large swathes of the Cuban economy.

Without his own power base or credentials from fighting in the revolution and subsequent conflicts, D-az-Canel will have to prove himself as a leader who can bridge the divisions within the Cuban government

"He wants consensus," said former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray. "He is not the kind of guy like Fidel Castro used to be, who imposed consensus."

Will Cuba-US relations change?

US officials are waiting to see what changes D-az-Canel will bring to the job.

The transition is taking place just as the US reduced staffing at the US Embassy in Havana to the lowest levels in 40 years, following mystery health incidents involving US diplomats.

And the US-Cuba relationship has again chilled after President Donald Trump said he was "tearing up" former President Barack Obama's deal with the island and imposed further economic sanctions against the Cuban government.

Now, the US government has less contact and influence with Cuba -- just as US officials are trying to get a sense of what kind of leader D-az-Canel will be and how much turnover will take place in the upper ranks of the Cuban government.

"(D-az-Canel) was not particularly involved in the US relationship," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy adviser for national security, who led the US delegation in secret talks with Cuba to re-establish relations.

"It's not just the person at the top, there's all manner of positions that are going to turn over," Rhodes said. "My concern is that what Trump did is that it was the worst possible timing to empower hardliners in that transition who can now say, 'See, we can't count on the US.'"

And despite reportedly having a love for American rock and roll music, D-az-Canel has increasingly shown himself to be a hardliner when dealing with the US.

"Sometimes it's inexplicable that a country so big, so powerful, has dedicated so much time, resources, evil and perversity to destroying the revolutionary process," D-az-Canel said in 2017, as he attended the opening of a museum in Havana showcasing the CIA's plots against the Cuban government.

Challenges at home

The frayed US-Cuban relationship will only be one item on the agenda for the next president of Cuba.

A worsening economic crisis in Cuba's key ally, Venezuela, has disrupted vital oil shipments to the island.

And Cuban officials apparently still cannot work out a solution to unifying the island's two currencies, which has hobbled the already faltering economy.

Free-market reforms initiated by Raul Castro that allowed thousands of Cubans to go into the private sector have been rolled back after officials complained of a rise in wealth disparity and corruption.

Frustrated by a lack of opportunities and low wages, young Cubans are still moving away from Cuba.

All those problems and more await Cuba's new leadership.

"It must be a very difficult thing to be the president of Cuba," said Vicki Huddleston, a former head of the US diplomatic mission in Cuba. "You have a bureaucracy full of great people who are afraid to do anything. It's a top-down situation. Everything has to come back to you."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 481831

Reported Deaths: 6518
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin999721578
Ramsey42807796
Dakota35912384
Anoka33081383
Washington21896253
Stearns18695200
St. Louis14668262
Scott13159107
Wright12447114
Olmsted1172088
Sherburne866673
Carver759940
Clay685386
Rice665391
Blue Earth588035
Kandiyohi577474
Crow Wing516280
Chisago494744
Otter Tail479670
Benton441890
Winona414849
Mower400731
Douglas391068
Nobles385847
Goodhue383768
Polk341362
McLeod337049
Beltrami335751
Morrison322446
Lyon311543
Itasca309946
Becker308141
Isanti304153
Carlton298744
Steele298211
Pine281216
Freeborn278023
Nicollet253141
Todd244930
Brown241537
Le Sueur231520
Mille Lacs225847
Cass218224
Waseca207317
Meeker206534
Martin187528
Wabasha18553
Roseau178917
Hubbard160140
Houston156714
Dodge15144
Renville148040
Redwood146427
Fillmore13648
Chippewa135735
Cottonwood133620
Wadena129220
Pennington127816
Faribault122016
Aitkin118133
Sibley116610
Rock115613
Watonwan11568
Kanabec107019
Pipestone100824
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9428
Jackson92610
Swift87318
Pope7935
Marshall77015
Stevens7368
Lake73018
Clearwater71714
Lac qui Parle68216
Wilkin66610
Koochiching61711
Big Stone5123
Lincoln5032
Grant4898
Norman4658
Unassigned45468
Mahnomen4407
Kittson40821
Red Lake3564
Traverse3015
Lake of the Woods2131
Cook1190

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 360369

Reported Deaths: 5380
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57811545
Linn20555312
Scott18229205
Black Hawk16205287
Woodbury14896211
Johnson1376873
Dubuque13494194
Dallas1128090
Pottawattamie10724141
Story1014845
Warren551172
Clinton541683
Cerro Gordo531980
Webster516786
Marshall494872
Sioux492369
Buena Vista471436
Des Moines455261
Muscatine448591
Wapello4279108
Jasper407565
Plymouth393377
Lee373551
Marion357369
Jones293854
Henry292335
Carroll284648
Bremer277354
Crawford272435
Boone258830
Washington253547
Benton251154
Mahaska222946
Jackson220938
Dickinson216538
Tama212064
Kossuth207354
Clay193125
Hamilton191541
Delaware188739
Winneshiek187126
Fayette184334
Buchanan183630
Page181919
Hardin180239
Wright179631
Harrison178869
Cedar176222
Clayton167853
Butler165631
Mills162720
Floyd162339
Madison153618
Cherokee153535
Poweshiek153430
Hancock146429
Lyon145641
Iowa143823
Allamakee143745
Appanoose138547
Grundy138330
Jefferson137632
Winnebago137530
Calhoun133111
Cass132548
Mitchell130240
Louisa127741
Union126131
Chickasaw124613
Sac123718
Emmet120940
Shelby120033
Franklin118319
Humboldt117125
Guthrie116228
Palo Alto104321
Montgomery103936
Howard102921
Clarke99820
Keokuk97729
Unassigned9320
Monroe92928
Adair91726
Ida90732
Pocahontas85219
Davis82223
Monona81426
Greene76610
Lucas72921
Osceola70014
Worth6927
Taylor66312
Fremont5889
Decatur5739
Van Buren55818
Ringgold51720
Wayne48721
Audubon4819
Adams3254
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 26°
Mason City
Partly Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 25°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
37° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 29°
Austin
Partly Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 25°
Charles City
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 23°
Minor snow chances into the weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events