Who is Miguel Díaz-Canel? And what does his ascension to the top of Cuba’s government mean for a country that has been run by the Castro brothers for nearly 60 years?
Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer of international relations and policy who has studied Cuba, said the shroud of mystery surrounding Díaz-Canel is by design. The Cuban regime, he said, has carefully presented a profile of a man who is a staunch communist, but one in touch with Cuba’s younger generation as it transitions away from Castro’s contemporaries.
“He likes the Rolling Stones. He likes the Beatles. He has an iPad. We hear that repeated over and over,” Sabatini said. “That to me smacks of a well-managed (public relations) campaign.”
Miguel Diaz-Canel Full Biography and Profile
Miguel Diaz-Canel (Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez) was born 20 April 1960. Miguel Diaz-Canel is the first vice president. An electronics engineer by training, Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez has often appeared more in tune with the times than his elderly khaki-clad predecessors, Raul and his brother Fidel, who ruled the Caribbean island for the past six decades.
As a young provincial party chief, Miguel Diaz-Canel bucked party orthodoxy by backing an LGBT-friendly cultural centre, reportedly listening to rock music and sporting long hair.
At a national level, Diaz-Canel called for more critical coverage of events in state-run media, and broader internet access to open one of the world’s least web-connected societies. He often arrives at meetings carrying a tablet device.
Ultimately though, Miguel Diaz-Canel appears to be a consensus candidate hand-picked by Castro who earned trust by working his way through the ranks over three decades and sticking to the party line on key political and economic issues, analyst say.
Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez recent public statements have focussed on the need for continuity and to fight imperialism, a defiant and well-worn message as Cuba faces renewed tensions with the United States since President Donald Trump took office.
“There are reasons to expect he will be more flexible, more modern,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former Cuban government analyst who grew up in Diaz-Canel’s hometown of Santa Clara and now lectures at the University of Texas.
“But there is no evidence in favour of him being a reformist and assuming he will abandon the one-party system or stop favouring the state sector over the non-state sector.”
Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez’s policy views remain mostly an enigma. Political campaigning is banned in Cuba and Diaz-Canel has avoided the showboating that has ended the careers of other political pretenders over the years.
Many Cubans, frustrated with the slow pace of economic improvement under Castro hope for change. Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez room for manoeuvre will be limited as the Communist Party remains the driving political force and will be headed by Castro until 2021. At Castro’s side in the party leadership will be fellow old-guard revolutionary Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 87.
Some members of Cuba’s small dissident community – who are viewed by the government as working for the United States to destabilise the government – have condemned Diaz-Canel’s presidency before it has even begun, saying it will simply be more of the same.
One opponent, Hildebrando Chaviano, dismissed him a “Mr Nobody” with no policies, adding Fidel Castro’s long years in power had spawned a generation of followers, not leaders. Fidel Castro formally handed over power to his brother in 2008 and died in 2016.
RAUL CASTRO’S MAN
While Diaz-Canel’s public persona has been reserved since he joined the national government nine years ago, residents in his home province of Villa Clara enthuse about him as a handsome, friendly “man of the people” who got things done.
He grew up in a modest one-storey house with a crumbling stucco facade in what locals say is one of the roughest neighbourhoods of the provincial capital, Santa Clara.
A bright pupil, according to a former teacher, he taught at university before his political career took off and he became party chief in Villa Clara during Cuba’s economic crisis of the 1990s following the collapse of its main ally, the Soviet Union.
Fuel was scarce so he cycled to work wearing shorts instead of commuting by Soviet-made Lada like other party leaders.
“His closeness to the citizens was his trademark,” said Ramon Silverio, 69, owner of Santa Clara’s El Mejunje (“the mixture”) cultural centre that holds lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) nights.
Silverio lauded Diaz-Canel for supporting El Mejunje at a time when homophobia was commonplace in the party.
A culture lover, Diaz-Canel would bring his two children from his first marriage to its youth events, dancing there himself in the evenings.
He worked long hours, carrying out surprise inspections of state companies to counter corruption, leading to a nickname, “Diaz y Noche,” a wordplay on his name and a television crime drama Day and Night.
In 2003, Diaz-Canel was moved to be party chief in Holguin province, a centre of Cuba’s burgeoning tourism industry and foreign investment. He was summoned to Havana in 2009 to be higher education minister and in 2013 Castro made him his right-hand man, praising him for his “solid ideological strength.”
“He is the man Raul has confided in and this gives him credit among the military and the old revolutionary guard,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a retired Cuban diplomat.
Diaz-Canel has stood in for Castro at major political events, received foreign dignitaries and traveled abroad on behalf of the government.
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A leaked video last year from a closed-door party meeting that showed Diaz-Canel espousing hardline views against independent media, dissidents and western embassies disappointed many Cubans, who hope he will be a reformist.
Yet some analysts say this was more proof more of Diaz-Canel’s political dexterity than of his policy views as he needed to reassure party hardliners spooked by Fidel Castro’s death and by Trump’s election. Trump has cast a cloud over the detente reached in 2014 between Raul Castro and former U.S. President Barack Obama.
That dexterity will be crucial if Diaz-Canel wants to push through changes along the sort of careful trajectory Castro has set – enough to make Cuban socialism sustainable but not so much they destroy the system.
Given Diaz-Canel lacks the clout of Fidel and Raul Castro as historic leaders of the revolution, his ability to command authority will depend on the economy improving, analysts say.
“The new president will have to create a new political consensus, he won’t inherit one,” said Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas, which is affiliated to the Culture Ministry but takes a reformist stance.
“Within two or three months, people will be asking why their lives haven’t improved.”
More About Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez
The few times he’s spoken publicly, Díaz-Canel has made clear that he’s a true believer in the Marxist-Leninist ideology that formed the basis of the Castro revolution. He’s also fully embraced the island’s suspicion of the Yankees to the north.
In a speech in October, he blasted the United States for its insistence that Cuba move toward a more democratic government.
“Imperialism can never be trusted, not even a tiny bit, never,” he said, echoing the words of Ernesto “Che” Guevara on the 50th anniversary of his death.
– Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez Biography and Profile