Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Cuba's leaders

The new man

The Castros unveil their successor

Mar 2nd 2013 | HAVANA

EVER since Raúl Castro replaced his ailing brother, Fidel, as Cuba's

president in 2008, he has made clear that his overriding aim is to

organise an orderly political and economic transition to ensure that the

ruling Communist Party remains in power after both men die. Progress

towards that goal has been painstakingly slow, and sometimes crablike.

But another step was taken at the opening of a newly installed National

Assembly on February 24th, when Raúl began a second presidential term.

Not only did he repeat that it would be his last. He also hailed the

appointment as first vice-president of Miguel Díaz- Canel, a former

higher-education minister, saying this represented "a defining step in

the configuration of the country's future leadership".

"Who's he?" was how one Havana resident greeted the news. Mr Díaz-Canel

may not be exactly a household name in Cuba but he has been tipped for

the top for several years. He has stood in for Raúl on a couple of

recent foreign visits. Aged 52, his elevation means that the Castros,

both of whom are in their 80s, are at last passing the baton to a

generation born after the 1959 revolution. (Fidel gave a short speech at

the assembly, in a rare public appearance which could be read as giving

his blessing to the new appointment.)

Mr Díaz-Canel is an electrical engineer who spent 15 years as a

provincial party secretary before becoming a minister and, last year,

vice-president of the Council of Ministers. He is unexpressive in

public, but is said to be affable and accessible, with a quick wit and

sharp mind. Until fairly recently he wore his hair long, another

reminder of the fact that he is a child of the 1960s, not the 1930s. He

is known to be a fan of the Beatles, an enthusiasm once frowned upon by

the regime.

Whereas Fidel liked to surround himself with young acolytes, Raúl has

long shown that he values the practical experience of provincial party

officials, to whom he has devolved some powers. Another rising star,

Mercedes López Acea, the Havana party secretary, was promoted to the

rank of vice-president as well.

As higher-education minister Mr Díaz-Canel expanded a scheme under which

Cubans taught students from Venezuela, Cuba's chief benefactor. He

forged close ties with Venezuela's leaders, including Nicolás Maduro,

the de facto president. With Mr Chávez seemingly dying of cancer, it is

vital for Cuba's leaders that Mr Maduro should succeed him and continue

to provide subsidised oil.

Raúl once praised Mr Díaz-Canel for his "ideological firmness". The new

man's private views are unclear. In the 1990s he was linked to a group

of communist reformers that surrounded the then foreign minister,

Roberto Robaina, who openly argued for economic liberalisation in Cuba.

Raúl Castro has allowed Cubans to buy cars and homes, to lease farmland

and to set up small businesses. Last year he scrapped curbs on foreign

travel. As a result, this month Yoani Sánchez, a blogger and opponent of

the regime, has been able to visit Brazil—though she has faced protests

organised by the Cuban Embassy in Brasília and members of Brazil's

ruling Workers' Party.

There are signs that Raúl is running out of reformist steam. His tone in

his speech to the assembly seemed at times almost resigned. "I was not

chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba" he stressed (Mr

Díaz-Canel nodded in agreement). He announced no new economic reforms.

It will be Mr Díaz-Canel's job to get to grips with the "issues of

greater scope, complexity and depth" that Raúl said the government was

grappling with. First among these is allowing private wholesale markets.

Various putative dauphins were raised up by Fidel only to fall from

grace, accused of corruption or of excessive ambition. One of them was

Mr Robaina, sacked in 1999. He now spends his days painting and running

a restaurant in Miramar, an elegant district of Havana. Mr Díaz-Canel is

presumably aware of the risks involved in his elevation. But this time

it looks as if the chosen successor may be the one who actually succeeds.

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