Miguel Diaz-Canel may prefer the Cuban guayavera shirt over the Cuban military fatigues, but if he becomes Cuba’s president later this month, the hand-picked apparatchik is likely to continue with Fidel Castro’s legacy of anti-Americanism.
Although it will be the first time Cuba’s Politburo won’t have a Castro leading both the presidency and the Communist Party, the new strategy will continue to protect Castro’s aim to “defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism and not to destroy” the totalitarian regime.
Cuba’s new parliament is set to vote for the island’s new leadership April 19, a day before Diaz-Canel turns 58. He is expected to remain obedient to Castro, who will be the first secretary of Cuba’s Communist party until 2021.
The 86-year-old grandfather will continue to enjoy the protection of his 52-year-old son, Colonel Alejandro Castro, who controls the counterintelligence force with an iron fist.
Diaz-Canel, the son of a plant worker in Santa Clara, will likely not interfere with the ruling elites. Instead, he will be busy adjusting Castro’s economic reforms and working on the possibility of a future transition out of the current dual currency system.
The disciplined Marxist and former university professor’s road to power was solidified when he became Castro’s Sierra Maestra loyalist Jose Ramon Machado Ventura’s protege. The trained electronic engineer served in the Revolutionary Armed Forces’ anti-aircraft missile unit, and was later the minister of higher education.
When Diaz-Canel succeeded Machado Ventura as first vice president among five other vice presidents, he became the first Cuban born after Fidel Castro established his Communist dictatorship to reach that level of power.
In 2013, Patrick Ventrell, the former spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said the promotion of Diaz-Canel did not signal a “fundamental change for Cuba,” and the U.S. wanted to see Cubans being able to “pick their own leaders in an open democratic process.”
Five years later, the feeling among U.S. officials is the same. There is plenty of evidence that Diaz-Canel has little desire to make an effort to normalize relations with the U.S.
Last year, Diaz-Canel was filmed telling leaders of the Communist Party that President Donald Trump’s administration was “offensive,” and Cuba should not have to make any concessions. He also accused Yoani Sanchez, a prominent digital journalist, and the dissenting relatives of political prisoners of working as well-funded “puppets” of the U.S.
His rigidity and lack of interest in making improvements in the area of human rights signal his future refusal to extradite U.S. fugitives or to free political prisoners. He also seems to have a plan to target government critics.
“The day we are able to cut the money, the counterrevolution is over,” Diaz-Canel said in a 2017 video published by CiberCuba on YouTube.
Diaz-Canel will take office as the island enjoys strong relationships with China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela, and just after John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser and Mike Pompeo’s appointment to head the U.S. State Department.
Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations, considered Cuba to be part of the world’s “axis of evil,” a term used to describe terrorism-sponsoring states. Pompeo, the former director of the CIA, fervently opposed former President Barack Obama’s policy and criticized his 2016 visit to Havana.
It’s unclear if this will translate into a lack of cooperation on drug interdiction, immigration and anti-terrorism efforts. The U.S.-Cuba relationship is so icy that the White House has already announced Trump has no intentions of meeting with Castro during the Summit of the Americas April 13-14 in Peru.
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