World

Miguel Diaz-Canel succeeds Raul Castro as Cuba’s new president

Miguel Diaz-Canel was elected to succeed Raul Castro as Cuba’s new president at a plenary session of the National Assembly on Thursday.

The 57-year-old is a member of the Politburo of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and held the chair of the first secretary of the PCC in the provinces of Villa Clara and Holguin.

Raul Castro, the 86-year-old current president of the country, announced last year that he will step down in 2018 due to health issues. For the first time, the island country has a non “Castro” member as the president in nearly 60 years.

The elections system and its generational change 

Cuba holds its election in every five years. The process starts with election of municipal representatives and ends with the election of the president.

In November last year, residents cast their ballots, choosing representatives in municipal assemblies and on March 11, a new parliament – the National Assembly of People’s Power with 605 parliamentary seats – has been elected through votes of eight million Cubans.

As the legislative session sat for the first time, lawmakers elected the country’s next president, first vice president, five vice presidents and 23 members of the State Council.

Many viewed this year’s election signal a generational change, not only because Raul Castro is ending his terms as the president.

For March’s election, the statistics from official newspaper Granma showed that 90 percent of the candidates were born after the Cuba revolution. The average age is 49 and the majority (56 percent) are first-time candidates.

More than 53 percent are women, which makes Cuba one of the top three countries in the world for the number of females in parliament.

The 57-year-old Diaz-Canel has spent a long time serving in Communist Party of Cuba. He headed Villa Clara Province from 1994 to 2003 and became the first secretary of the more populous province of Holguin in eastern Cuba in 2003, as well as becoming a member of the Politburo of Communist Party of Cuba.

He served as the minister of higher education before he was elected as the first vice-president of the Council of State in 2013.

The official newspaper in Cuba, Granma, has a series of stories on Díaz-Canel receiving leaders from foreign countries and making trips abroad. He headed a delegation group to China in 2015, the year when the two countries celebrated the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Díaz-Canel has a reputation for being liberal and supports gay rights, greater press freedom, and access to the Internet.

In the meantime, Raul Castro is highly likely to stay on as the head of the Communist Party of Cuba.

However, this will mark an important decentralization of power as for the first time as the head of the party and the country will not be the same person.

Analysts expect that Diaz-Canel would not bring about major changes, because he has defended the political continuity on the island and maintained the socialist model.

Raul Castro’s 12 years in power

In 2006 Raul Castro assumed presidency as a temporary replacement for Fidel Castro. For the 12 years in power, Raul Castro has showed a different Cuba to the world

He began his term with increasing the country’s agricultural productivity. Over the last decade, the Cuban government provided private farmers with one million hectares of idle land and made efforts in improving their working conditions.

Furthermore, Raul Castro began a series of reforms to liberalize the economy to expand private sectors and state decentralization, stating in 2010: “Either we change course or we sink.”

Since then there were more than 300 measures including flexible migration policy, promoting foreign investments, elimination of the double currency system, attracting tourists and eliminating massive public subsidies.

Raul Castro is continuing the gradual opening-up of Cuba. In January 2013, the Cuban government ended the need for Cubans to have a travel permit to travel abroad.

The highlight of Raul Castro’s presidency was in December 17, 2014 when he announced to restore diplomatic relations with the US after nearly half a century hostile between the two sides. Then US president Barack Obama also visited Havana in March 2016.

Since then there were more than 300 measures including flexible migration policy, promoting foreign investments, elimination of the double currency system, attracting tourists and eliminating massive public subsidies.

Raul Castro is continuing the gradual opening-up of Cuba. In January 2013, the Cuban government ended the need for Cubans to have a travel permit to travel abroad.

The highlight of Raul Castro’s presidency was in December 17, 2014 when he announced to restore diplomatic relations with the US after nearly half a century hostile between the two sides. Then US president Barack Obama also visited Havana in March 2016.

US President Barack Obama speaks next to Cuban President Raul Castro (R) during a Major League baseball exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team at the Latinoamericano stadium in Havana, March 22, 2016. /VCG Photo

However, current US President Donald Trump rolled back the opening with the island initiated by his processor and toughened the economic blockade limiting trade and issued a series travel restrictions on US travelers to Cuba.

The new Cuban leader has to deal with this new situation with the US.