Cuba gets new president as Castro steps aside

Cuba lawmakers announced on Thursday they had elected the sole candidate Miguel Diaz-Canel to replace Raul Castro as president on Thursday, marking a new chapter for the Communist-run island.
Outgoing Cuban President Raul Castro (left) and First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel are shown arriving at the National Assembly yesterday in a photo by official Cuban website www.cubadebate.cu.
Outgoing Cuban President Raul Castro (left) and First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel are shown arriving at the National Assembly yesterday in a photo by official Cuban website www.cubadebate.cu.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Diaz-Canel is the first non-Castro to lead the communist country in 60 years

HAVANA • Cuba marked the end of an era yesterday as Mr Miguel Diaz-Canel was formally elected as the country's new president, succeeding Mr Raul Castro and becoming the first non-Castro to lead the island in six decades.

The silver-haired Mr Diaz-Canel - a top Communist Party figure who has served as first vice-president since 2013 - is the island's first leader born after the 1959 revolution. He was elected in a landmark vote of the National Assembly a day before his 58th birthday.

He vowed to keep the Caribbean island on the path of revolution, but also maintain economic reforms.

"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 Mr Castro, he said.

Mr Diaz-Canel was named the sole candidate for the presidency on Wednesday.

The father of the nation, Mr Fidel Castro, and his younger brother, Raul, made the Caribbean island a key player in the Cold War and helped keep communism afloat despite the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr Raul Castro, 86, has been in power since 2006, when he took over after illness sidelined his brother, who seized power in the revolution.

Yesterday's symbolic vote took place on the anniversary of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, when Mr Fidel Castro's forces defeated 1,400 United States-backed rebels seeking to overthrow him.

Although Mr Diaz-Canel has advocated fewer restrictions on the press and greater openness to the Internet, he also has a ruthless streak, with harsh words for Cuba's dissidents and the US. Crucially, he will remain under the watchful eye of Mr Castro, who will continue to serve as the head of Cuba's all-powerful Communist Party.

Once sworn in, Mr Diaz-Canel will be tasked with pursuing reforms begun by Mr Castro to open up Cuba's economy to small private entrepreneurs and reach a rapprochement with its Cold War arch-enemy, the US.

Havana and Washington renewed diplomatic ties in 2015, under President Barack Obama. But, steps towards a normalisation of ties have been curtailed since Mr Donald Trump arrived in the White House last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2018, with the headline 'Cuba gets new president as Castro steps aside'. Print Edition | Subscribe