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By Will Harney | FRFI

On 19 April 2018 Cuba inaugurated its new Council of State, including the new President, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez. He is the first leader of Cuba’s government to be born after the revolution of 1959. At this event which concluded the six-month long general election, outgoing leader Raul Castro addressed the National Assembly of People’s Power, expressing optimism about the suitability of the country’s new leadership to continue the programme of economic, social and political reforms, as well as the significant progress made in rejuvenating and diversifying the National Assembly so that it reflects the demographics of the nation it serves. Raul also expressed his hope that Diaz-Canel would succeed him as First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, indicating that the ties between the Party and the government of Cuba will remain strong in the years to come. Will Harney reports.

The transition to the next generation

Raul stepped down this year after two terms in office, in accordance with the term limits agreed in the Communist Party of Cuba’s programme of updates to the socialist model, which were approved at the 6th Congress in 2011 and consolidated at the 7th Congress in 2016. Guidelines for economic, social and political reforms were drafted, modified and agreed in 2010-11, in consultation with the people through a participatory democratic system (FRFI 221). Included in the programme are gradual changes to improve efficiency and productivity in Cuba’s economy, with a greater role for non-state enterprises, introduction of a housing market and incentives for greater foreign investment with the state retaining control over central planning. The guidelines also stipulate that no one over 70 will assume a leadership position in the Party, effectively guaranteeing that the country’s leadership will transition to a new generation.

Diaz-Canel’s accession to leadership therefore represents a key step in the fulfilment of these commitments. He was elected by the National Assembly with 604 votes to 1 and will serve as President for a maximum of two terms until 2028. A National Assembly session is planned in July to appoint a commission to draft a new constitution. This will update the constitution to reflect the recommendations of term limits, age limits and other updates to the political system, and the document will then be debated and submitted to a popular referendum.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, President of Cuba

Raul expressed his confidence in the new President, noting his ‘maturity, working capacity, social ideology, political sensitivity, commitment and fidelity to the revolution’, and explaining that Diaz-Canel’s promotion within the Party has not happened ‘in a hurry’, underlining the latter’s many years of steady service. Born in the Province of Villa Clara in 1961 to a working class family, Diaz-Canel trained as an electrical engineer at university and served in the Revolutionary Armed Forces after graduating, before returning to teach at Central University of Las Villas. He became First Secretary of the Young Communist League of Villa Clara at the age of 27. In the difficult years for Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union, through the 1990s Diaz-Canel worked as First Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee in Villa Clara, and later as First Secretary in Holguin, before being appointed Minister of Education in central government. He was elected Vice President of the Council of Ministers in 2012 and First Vice President of Cuba in 2013.

In his work in the provinces, Diaz-Canel’s penchant for surprise inspections at state enterprises earned him the nick-name ‘Dia y Noche’ or Day and Night, a sign of a hands-on approach which will prove an asset for the tasks ahead. As of the last Party Congress in 2016, 21% of the guidelines agreed in 2011 for updating the socialist model had been completed and 77% were in progress. In 2017 more than $2bn of foreign investment was secured, a figure which must be maintained to meet investment targets. Diaz-Canel declared to the Assembly and Council of State: ‘I am here to show my commitment to work and to demand the fulfilment of the programme’; the new President insisted that only ‘hard work and efficient work’ would bring about new victories for the nation and for socialism. He promised that there would be no return to capitalism.

A younger and more diverse leadership

Raul’s outgoing speech also noted the great progress made in electing women, black and mixed race Cubans to the highest positions of government. Not only has there been progress in what he called the ‘battle of percentages’ with the wider composition of the National Assembly being more diverse (FRFI 263), but there has been qualitative improvement of representation with more black Cubans and women being promoted to decision-making positions on the Council of State. 42% of the Council are new members, a ‘renovation’ in the leadership. 48.4% are women, and 45.2% are black or mixed race. Of the six Vice Presidents elected, three are black, including the First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa, and three are women. 77.4% of the Council of State were born after the 1959 revolution. The country’s parliament is also getting younger: the average age of deputies was reduced from 57 to 49 years old, with the youngest being 19.

The Party will continue to support the president

After the next Congress of the Communist Party in 2021, it seems likely that Diaz-Canel, in addition to his presidential duties, will take over leadership of the Communist Party from Raul, who said: ‘From then on, I will be one more soldier alongside the people defending this Revolution’. Until that time, Raul will continue to provide leadership on the decisions which are most important for the future of the nation, and he made clear that the new constitution will maintain the close relationship between Party and state.

As President Diaz-Canel reminded the assembly, ‘the threats will never be few for a country that tries to make a revolution’. The US’s stance towards Cuba and its Latin American trading partners has hardened under the Trump administration and a key test for the new generation of Cuban leaders will be foreign policy. Diaz-Canel has already asserted that there will be no bowing to pressure or threats from outside, and any changes needed for Cuba in the years ahead will be decided sovereignly by its people. He concluded his speech defiantly: ‘¡Patria o muerte, socialismo o muerte, venceremos!’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 264 June/July 2018

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