Cuba Welcomes New Leader, Does it Signal a Change?

FILE PHOTO: Cuba's First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel stands in line before casting his vote dur...

Cuba has welcomed its newest leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, on Thursday, which marks the beginning of a new page of diplomacy between Cuba and the United States. The foundation established by the Obama administration has been opening Cuba back to the global picture from the Cold War, yet the transition from Raul Castro to Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez and its potential impact on this relation remains unknown, yet has the world political stage watching.

In a conversation with American lawmakers almost three years ago, Mr. Diaz-Canel failed to generate a response to the questions of his opinion of the revolution and its impact on Cuba domestically and internationally. He said that he was born after the revolution, and therefore “not the best person to answer your questions on the subject.”

Mr. Diaz-Canel was rather not very well-known and remained behind the scenes in the past. While many were unfamiliar with him, they expected him to be more or less a continuation of Raul Castro. Castro himself will also stay as the head of armed forces and the Communist Party of Cuba, meaning that he will still hold control and power over two of the most important forces and institutions on the island.

Mr. Diaz-Canel did not enter at the most easy and peaceful times, as President Trump has launched a series of trade measures and has appeared reluctant to engage a relationship with Cuba. He also needs to deal with the repercussions and remaining marks of the revolution.

Many expressed their wariness towards Mr. Diaz-Canel’s ability and capacity to master and overcome these tasks. As Daniel P. Erikson, a former State Department official commented, “he is someone who has very little exposure to U.S. political or cultural figures.”

On the other hand, those endorsing him have described him as a quiet but effective leader and argued that his ability and potential weighs over his lack of fame. He is also praised for his openness to different ideas, as he advocated for rights of a gay club and has pushed for internet access in Cuba recently.

He grew up very involved in the Communist Party as he joined the Union of Young Communists, which is the party’s youth league. Later he worked directly with Raul Castro as a bodyguard and has demonstrated great loyalty with the cause of the revolution.

However, he seems very loyal to the Communist Party as he campaigned against students reading texts unapproved by the Party in the past. In a leaked video of him, he has dismissed potential compromises and negotiations with the United States.

Mr. Diaz-Canel has been a character of enigma, complexity and even contradictions. While his beliefs seemed to be more liberal leaning than Cuban leaders in the past, he also appears very conventional and firm in his advocacy of Communism and the revolution. While he demonstrates accessible everyday qualities that fits in the model for a modern leader, his political stance towards the revolution is traditional and stubborn.

Cuba under this new generation of leadership will experience a new stage of diplomacy and the Trump administration will need to negotiate new agreements and compromises with the island.

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