Havana (CNN) The shift in power away from Cuba’s Raul Castro is finally afoot.
The country’s Communist Party hierarchy on Monday selected Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel to the powerful position of First Secretary, replacing Raul Castro after he announced his retirement last week.
As head of state and leader of the only political party permitted by law on the island, Diaz-Canel must chart the course forward for the Cuban revolution, now that the guerrilla comandantes who seized power in 1959 have all died or aged.
“Comrade Raul will be consulted on the most important strategic decisions of greatest weight for the destiny of our nation. He will always be present,” Diaz-Canal said of Castro, as he accepted the new position.
Born in 1960, the same year the Castro family nationalized all US-owned property in Cuba, Diaz-Canel exudes neither Fidel’s charisma nor Raul’s authority. While he did a three-year stint in the army, unlike the Castros, Diaz-Canel is a pencil-pushing bureaucrat rather than an olive-green-uniformed revolutionary. That said, he will make history as the first Cuban at the helm of the government and communist party not named Castro.
And knowing how to navigate Cuba’s dysfunctional bureaucracy may prove to be a more vital skill than commanding a battalion as even many of Raul Castro’s signature proposals—remaking the port of Mariel into a manufacturing hub and unifying Cuba’s two currencies—became ensnared in the bog of red tape that seems to plague every endeavor pursued by the Cuban government.
The new Cuban leader has made climbing the ranks in the communist-run system his life work, while enjoying Raul Castro’s enduring full-throated support.
“Diaz-Canel is not the fruit of improvisation but a thought-out selection of a young revolutionary with the conditions to be promoted to superior offices,” Castro said in his speech on Friday at the Communist Party Congress, which was convened to select the aging revolutionary’s replacement.
The Castro legacy
Since taking over the Cuban presidency in 2018, Diaz-Canel has put forward the image of a younger, more dynamic leader‚ one who posts messages on social media and reads from a tablet at government meetings. His policies, however, have been as conservative if not more so than Raul Castro’s. It’s a strategy bent on assuring the elder generation still occupying key political positions that he will not undermine their revolution.