Cuba's Communist Party Picks Miguel Diaz-Canel as President

by Garry Watts April 20, 2018, 0:34
Cuba's Communist Party Picks Miguel Diaz-Canel as President

As Diaz-Canel walked to the front of the chamber, he high-fived the front row of delegates and embraced Castro as he took the stage, images broadcast on state television showed.

Miguel Diaz-Canel has been officially named Cuba's new president.

Castro was originally set to retire February 24 this year, but the country was still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, so his succession was postponed.

"The mandate given by the people to this legislature is to continue the Cuban revolution at this crucial historic moment, which will be marked by what we must do to implement the economic model" put in place by Raul Castro, he said.

The 86-year-old Castro will remain head of the Communist Party, which is designated by the constitution as "the superior guiding force of society and the state". He also said the new president could serve two five-year terms, underscoring restrictions Castro imposed on himself after his brother's decades in power. "In support of this, our stated policy to channel funds toward the Cuban people and away from Cuba's military, security and intelligence services is not expected to change".

Diaz-Canel was elected in a landmark vote of the National Assembly a day before his 58th birthday. "Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism".

Cuba is the last remaining communist bastion in the Western Hemisphere.

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Diaz-Canel inherits a youthful population hungry for change.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hardliners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent.

Two years after taking over from his ailing brother in 2006, Mr Castro launched a series of reforms that expanded Cuba's private sector to almost 600,000 people and allowed citizens greater freedom to travel and access to information.

State salaries average 30 dollars a month, leaving workers struggling to feed their families, and often dependent on corruption or remittances from relatives overseas.

The new leader will be tasked with pursuing reforms begun by Castro to open up Cuba's economy to small private entrepreneurs and reach a rapprochement with its Cold War arch-enemy, the United States.

The party selected six vice presidents, only one of whom, Ramiro Valdes Menendez, 85, fought in the revolution.

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