Cuba’s Next President: Miguel Díaz-Canel? 


Cuba’s current President, Raúl Castro, has announced that he will leave office when his current term expires on February 24, 2018, and it is widely expected that Cuba’s current First Vice President of the Council of State, Miguel Dìaz-Canel, will succeed him.

Who is Miguel Díaz-Canel?

According to a lengthy Miami Herald report, the 55-year-old Díaz-Canel is an electrical engineer by training and while in military service as a young man established a strong bond with Fidel and Raúl Castro as a result of helping to provide personal security to the two brothers. [1]

Afterwards he was active in the Union of Young Communists, the party’s youth league, and in his mid-20s  was appointed the party’s liaison to Nicaragua — then communist-ruled and Cuba’s key ally in the Western Hemisphere.

Since then his career has alternated between senior managerial posts, including minister of higher education and increasingly important party jobs.

From 1994 to 2003, he was one of a small, influential group of regional party chiefs. These provincial chiefs are very much in the local public eye,  and Díaz-Canel was a popular figure. He sometimes popped into local bars to share a beer and a joke. When an electrical blackout darkened a provincial hospital, Díaz-Canel spearheaded the repair party and went from bed to bed apologizing to patients. His work ethic also was much admired. In Villa Clara, he hosted a radio show and promoted rock festivals and art shows.

He also was dutiful to the Party as a provincial chief. When Fidel, then the President, announced early in the morning that he was making a surprise visit to the city of Santa Clara, Díaz-Canel was able to fill the city’s Revolutionary Square with cheering throngs by the time the leader arrived in the afternoon.

In 1997 he became the youngest-ever member of Cuba’s Politburo, the hand-picked committee of 14 party members who function as the president’s senior advisers.

After being appointed to his current position as Cuba’s top vice-president in 2013, most of  Díaz-Canel’s speeches include Marxist jargon and revolutionary sloganeering and rarely break new ground. Even his cautious criticism of government press censorship — “secretismo,” he called it — wasn’t made until after Raúl had raised the same subject. Moreover, these speeches inevitably contain praise of the Castros.

Over the last three years as an emblem of Cuba’s new political direction, Díaz-Canel has made many important foreign trips on behalf of the government, including the climate-change summit in Paris and a meeting  in Pyongyang with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. In addition, last year he frequently met with visiting U.S. officials in Havana.

As a handsome man, he projects the image and style of a new generation. He dresses in jeans and sports jackets, not military fatigues. He sings along to rock-and-roll songs. He carries a tablet computer under his arm and is even on Facebook.

What will Díaz-Canel do as President?

No one really knows what he will do if he becomes President in 2018, but most observers do not expect him to do anything radically different from the current gradual reforms of the economic system. He is not expected to abandon the one-party system. A major challenge will be strengthening his ties to the Cuban military, which is estimated to control two-thirds of the country’s private enterprises.

Another inhibiting factor, according to the Miami Herald, could be Raúl’s possibly retaining his positions as head of the Cuban armed forces and Communist Party as he has not said that he would give them up in February 2018.

Moreover, some observers believe that Raúl’s immediate or ultimate successor will be his son, Alejandro Castro, a colonel in the Interior Ministry’s security forces, or Raúl’s son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, a colonel in the army and chief of some of the armed forces’ biggest business enterprises.


[1] Whitefield, Torres & Garvin, After the Castro brothers: how much power will Cuba’s crown prince really wield? Miami Herald (Feb. 21, 2016). 

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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