Miguel Diaz-Canel: Leader of a new Cuba, or a figurehead for Castroites?

Cuba’s new leader is someone who doesn’t have the last name Castro. Parliament named Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel as the lone candidate to replace Raul Castro today. The Independent reported Diaz-Canel is someone who tends to stay out of public view although the Community Party trusts him.

Mr Diaz-Canel has served as vice president of the powerful Council of State since 2013, when he was appointed by party leadership and approved by the National Assembly. The general public knows little about the 57-year-old former engineer, who has granted no interviews to foreign news outlets.

But Mr Diaz-Canel is well-known to Communist Party leaders, having worked his way up the ranks for more than 30 years. He started as a member of the Young Communists’ Union in 1987, and became the first party secretary in Villa Clara province by 1994. He has also served as Cuba’s minister of education, and lead delegations to Russia, China, Japan, North Korea, and several South American countries.

Mr Diaz-Canel was born after the Cuban Revolution – one year after Fidel Castro took office – but has shown no signs of abandoning his revolutionary predecessors’ policies.

“I believe in continuity,” he told reporters who asked about his vision for Cuba’s future, according to CNN. “I think there always will be continuity.”

That last line is obviously going to cause people to say, “Well…so much for normalizing relations with Cuba because they picked another Castroite.” The truth may be a little bit murkier on whether Diaz-Canel will be Castro reborn or chart his own path. He made some very interesting Internet accessibility comments during a 2015 workshop (via Google Translate).

The State will work to make (the Internet) available, accessible and affordable for all.

We must understand what right and responsibility will coexist. There is a responsibility of the State and society to make this effective, but it also presupposes coexistence with other fundamental rights: the right to information, communication, participation, social accountability, together with individual and collective responsibility .

The right to Internet is accompanied, therefore, by the duties of the citizen and of the organizations and institutions towards society. It is, therefore, totally responsible to recognize that the right of everyone to Internet assumes duties in relation to their proper use and in accordance with the law, and also assumes the responsibility of ensuring the defense of the country and its integrity.

The Internet must be a tool at the service of the sustainable human development of the country and its effective insertion in the concert of nations.

The Internet and access to information technologies and communications in general offer opportunities for individuals, organizations and communities to develop their full potential, promote their sustainable development and improve the quality of life.

The Internet does not solve problems on its own, but it can help to support strategies based on social development.

It is the fundamental problems of society, its economic, social and cultural challenges that must be at the center of the strategy and demand its creative and intensive use.

It’s a really good thing the soon-to-be leader of the Cuban government is endorsing Internet access, although it remains to be seen just how extensive the government will allow said access. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the government block certain websites so Cubans can’t see what happens to people who enjoy more freedom than what’s currently in Cuba. It also wouldn’t be surprising at all to see it take decades for the Internet to be completely rolled out.

This doesn’t mean Cuba will suddenly go from a communist wasteland to a free market paradise. Marti Noticias reports via Google Translate Diaz-Canel could end up just being a figurehead.

Antonio Rodiles, an opponent who leads the independent State of Sats project and the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, spoke of his impressions, and also of what the citizens in the Cuban capital are saying about it.

In an interview with Martí Noticias, Rodiles said that in the country there is a total indifference of the people over the person who comes to power, although “everything seems to indicate that the successor will be Díaz-Canel”.

Rodiles believes that if he succeeds Raúl Castro in the post, he will be “a decorative figure, a very gray character without any kind of charisma.”

Everyone in Cuba knows that “it is he who they are going to put on as a decorative figure, but the real power in Cuba is in the military elite that controls the country, among them Alejandro Castro Espín, son of Raúl Castro and in son-in-law Luis Alberto Rodríguez Lopez-Callejas, “said the opposition.

“That emphasizes the idea that in Cuba a tropical dynasty reigns, whose objective is to stay in power,” Rodiles concluded.

In March of this year, santiagueros consulted by the Patriotic Union of Cuba said that either Díaz-Canel or another of the closest to power who will replace Raúl Castro on April 19, “everything will remain the same in the country.”

The jury is going to be out for a while on what happens with Diaz-Canel about to ascend to power, and if he ends up being Nicolas Maduro, Kim Jong-Un, or does some sort of glasnost ala Mikhail Gorbachev. The U.S. could help making Cuba a freer place by re-normalizing relations. It won’t happen (Brookings Institute thinks things will actually get worse between the two countries) but one can hope diplomacy will prevail along with free markets.

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