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Castro Era Ends in Cuba as Diaz-Canel Named President

20 April, 2018, 01:27 | Author: Kristen Ingram
  • Visitors laugh as they attend a cinema theatre at an invitation-only screening at the King Abdullah Financial District Theater in Riyadh Saudi Arabia Wednesday

Cuba marked the end of an era Thursday as Miguel Diaz-Canel was formally elected as the country's new president, succeeding Raul Castro and becoming the first non-Castro to lead the island in six decades.

As a result, Castro will remain the most powerful person in Cuba for the time being.

Raul has been in power since 2006, when he took over after illness sidelined Fidel, who seized power in the revolution.

Diaz-Canel said in the nationally televised speech before the National Assembly that his first thoughts upon taking office are for the "historic generation" that has led the country since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Raul Castro is still expected to exercise a large measure of control over the Cuban government and have the final say on important decisions.

From 1987 to 1989, he served as first secretary of the Union of Young Communists, working overseas in solidarity initiatives in Nicaragua.

The 86-year-old former guerrilla 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.

The National Assembly erupted into applause as the result was read out, with numerous delegates smiling, and shaking hands warmly with Castro and Diaz-Canel. That image changed slightly this year as state media placed an increasing spotlight on Diaz-Canel's public appearances, including remarks to the press last month that included his promise to make Cuba's government more responsive to its people, language he echoed on Thursday.

Cuba's President Raul Castro, center left, enters the National Assembly followed by his successor Miguel Diaz-Canel, center right, for the start of two-day legislative session in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

Havana has long hailed the showdown as American imperialism's first great defeat in Latin America. "Diaz-Canel needs to work hard on the economy, because people need to live a little better". He noted that Cuba will not make concessions under pressure or threats.

During Castro's tenure, Cuba became friendlier to foreign investment; began the process of turning state barber shops, beauty salons and other service industries into worker-run cooperatives; greatly expanded self-employment and allowed small business to form; permitted the buying and selling of real estate and cars; began leasing unused state land to farmers; and adopted a comprehensive tax code.

Diaz-Canel promised in his speech that he will continue to keep the country's socio-economic model up to date, while also preserving its socialist angle and the ruling position of the communist party.

A detente between the United States and Cuba, longtime adversaries, has slowed after Donald Trump became president in 2017.

Diaz-Canel will also inherit a youthful population hungry for change on the Caribbean island - one of the world's last outposts of Communism since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But Cuba watchers and domestic analysts say he will favor continuity over change in the early days of his presidency - and could hit some stumbling blocks along the way.

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