Raul Castro To Step Down in 2018 – Who Is Next In Line?

Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel (L) talks to Cuba's President Raul Castro during a May Day parade in Havana, Cuba, in this May 1, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

Cuban Vice President is the heir apparent, Miguel Diaz-Canel (L) talks to Cuba’s President Raul Castro REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

Cuba’s Heir Apparent, Miguel Diaz-Canal?  After Fidel Castro’s death last Friday at the age of 90 the 85-year-old Raul Castro, says he will step down in February 2018. This will be the end of his second five-year term. Diaz-Canel who was elevated to the position of first vice-president in 2013, puts him next in line as the likely successor for Cuba’s presidency.

An electrical engineer by profession,  which means this guy is a pretty smart guy; Diaz-Canel is also a Beatles fan who has maintained an impressive presence on social media, posting pictures with the president routinely, in an internet-starved country. Diaz-Canel has pushed for press and internet freedom during his time in office, a move that could mean a big change for the one-party state where the government has maintained a monopoly over the media for almost 60 years.

“He is well-liked, young, well-educated, and he’s gone through all the different hoops. That he is admired is very significant and shows he has the talent for handling people,” Professor Rafael Betancourt of the University of Havana told the Latin Post.

His appointment is not a sure thing, but he is the likely successor. This is a guy we should keep an eye on. Something tells me that Cuba is in for big changes.  Imagine what that could mean for all Cubans in the U.S and everywhere. The fact is he has established press and internet freedom as his signature concerns; it is easy to speculate a new dawn for Cuba with a more modern free state.

Cuba’s heir apparent Miguel Diaz-Canel has maintained a low profile.  He has been seen sporting jeans and jackets, very different from the country’s past and present leaders who stuck with their military fatigues. While described as witty and relaxed in private, the young leader has a weaker public profile and has refrained from commenting on key issues such as reforms or relations with the United States. This makes it tougher to gauge the steps he would take as a ruler.

Other apparent successors to the Castros have emerged over the years only to fail suddenly. Among them were Carlos Lage, then 57 and one of Cuba’s secondary vice-presidents, then there was Felipe Perez Roque, then 43 and foreign minister. They were both ousted in 2009 as part of a purge by Raul Castro for appearing too ambitious, collaborating with Spanish intelligence.

Diaz-Canel has been smart and calculating. Not wanting to eclipse Raul Castro and is so cautious; his public statements are mostly unmemorable. That reserved behavior and the government’s secretive nature make Diaz-Canel a mystery.

“He will be the first civilian president of the revolution, and that will require the confidence of the military,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former political analyst for the Cuban government whose mother taught Diaz-Canel at the University.

Twenty years ago,  after the fall of the Soviet Union, his career was taking off. Cuba suffered a severe economic crisis. Average Cubans had no choice but to opt for a bicycle or walk to work, while politicians commuted in their Soviet-made Ladas.

Miguel Diaz-Canel chose to pedal his way around. He would navigate the capital, Santa Clara, navigating narrow streets clogged with horse-drawn carts, motorcycle taxis, and pedestrians.

“Everybody was screwed, and the people saw the first secretary on a bicycle. He didn’t do it to look for popularity. He did it because that’s how he was. He was very straight-forward,” said Jose Antonio Fulgueiras, 62, president of the journalists’ union in Villa Clara province who covered Diaz-Canel’s rise as a politician and considers him a friend.

Beyond its populist touch, the bicycle gave Diaz-Canel greater stealth as he approached state enterprises for surprise inspections. The fight against corruption became his trademark, and he would ride that bike, figuratively, to the upper reaches of power. Miguel Diaz-Canal seems to be portraying himself as a man of the people, but only time will tell.

Silence is Consent.