Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Nick Miroff March 29, 2013 06:01

VP Diaz-Canel: Cuba's man on the make

Introducing Raul Castro's new No. 2, Miguel Diaz-Canel. He's under 80,

but does he bring the new blood Cuba will need when Castro retires?

HAVANA, Cuba — There are no elections scheduled any time soon in Cuba,

but Miguel Diaz-Canel's long campaign for president is already in full


His public audition for Cuba's top job began last month when he was

named first vice president, designating him as chosen successor to Raul

Castro. Since then, over the course of several carefully choreographed

weeks, the island's aging leaders have lifted him from relative

obscurity to become Cuba's man for all occasions.

It was Diaz-Canel, not Fidel or Raul Castro, who offered Cuba's first

public condolences after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's death

earlier this month. When Pope Francis was elected at the Vatican

conclave, Diaz-Canel was dispatched to Rome to convey Havana's

congratulations. And when the players from Cuba's national baseball team

returned home with their hats in hand after a fifth-place finish at the

World Baseball Classic, Diaz-Canel was there to cheer them up.

The 52-year-old Diaz-Canel's newfound visibility is a first step by

Cuban authorities to prepare the public for a new face at the top. The

vast majority of the island's 11 million citizens was born after the

1959 Revolution, and has never lived under a ruler not named Castro.

Fidel Castro, now 86 and retired, is seldom seen in public anymore. His

brother Raul Castro, 81, remains in apparently good health but has

announced that his current five-year term as president will be his last.

Given his age and his stated desire to hand over power to a younger

generation of leaders, there's no guarantee he will serve until the end

of his term in 2018.

That leaves Diaz-Canel a heartbeat away from power, with some very big

and unwieldy shoes to fill.

An electrical engineer by training, Diaz-Canel rose through the ranks of

Cuba's Communist Party, serving as the top party official in the

provinces of Villa Clara and Holguin. He was appointed minister of

higher education in 2009.

If he succeeds Castro, he will inherit the hemisphere's only one-party

political system, a chronically struggling economy and thorny rivalry

with the United States and Cuban exiles who will be determined to see

him fail.

Not exactly light duty.

Among his first tasks will be convincing the Cuban public and powerful

figures within the government — especially the military — that he's a

credible and qualified leader.

So it was significant this week that Fidel Castro Diaz Balart, the

comandante's eldest son and a trained nuclear physicist, gave the new

vice president an unqualified endorsement in an interview with Russian

media, calling him "a young man with experience, technical preparation

and charisma."

It was also a subtle reminder that no younger Castros are in line to

take over when Raul steps down.

"I'm sure he will be well-received by the younger generation and the

population in general," said "Fidelito," himself now 63.

Diaz-Canel is not a hot-blooded firebrand in the mold of Fidel Castro or

Hugo Chavez. His reputation is that of a technocratic manager, and he

conveys no detectable enthusiasm for the spotlight or political

stagecraft. In his job as Communist Party boss in the provinces, he won

praise for his down-to-earth manner and competent oversight of millions

of dollars worth of tourism investments.

Archival photos show the tall, stockey Diaz-Canel often smiling and

wearing his silvery hair a bit long in the back, in the style of a mullet.

Whatever his image, Cuba's fading "historico" generation is betting that

if he can deliver economic growth and successfully downsize Cuba's

bloated bureaucracy, he will be able to forge the kind of political

consensus he'll need to withstand internal and external challenges to

his rule.

In comments last week that were reported by Cuba's state media,

Diaz-Canel burnished his image as a reformer, saying that the point of

Castro's ongoing economic liberalization measures has been to eliminate

the "prohibitions that have held back productive forces," and that the

island's private sector should continue to develop "without prejudices."

He also hinted that deeper and more difficult changes were still ahead.

"We've made progress on the issues that are the easiest to solve, that

require decisions and actions that are less complex," he said, "and now

what's left are the more important and complex choices that will be more

decisive in the future development of our country."

Such comments have some opposition activists hoping Diaz-Canel will lead

Cuba into a period of perestroika-style changes that would gradually

unravel the Castros' socialist system.

"For now he seems like a figure of continuity, but perhaps it's a mask

of opportunism that has helped him reach a position of power, and once

he's on top he'll turn out to be another Gorbachev," said dissident

blogger Yoani Sanchez during a recent talk at the Benjamin Cardozo Law

School in New York.

Rafael Hernandez, editor of the Cuban journal Temas, said in an

interview that Diaz-Canel is just one of several capable, younger

leaders now poised to steer the country forward along the path laid out

by Raul Castro's reform agenda.

While Diaz-Canel may not have had an international profile prior to his

promotion, Hernandez said he was well known and widely admired by Cubans

in the provinces.

"He was known for being accessible to ordinary people," Hernandez said.

"He used to sit down with people in the streets and have a beer."

"The majority of old bureaucrats in Cuba are not like that," he said.

"But in these new circumstances, in this new context, Cuban politicians

must play the role of a politician. They have to get down to the

grassroots level and talk to people. That is how Diaz-Canel will build

his own political consensus."

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