By Tiberiu Dianu
1. Castro Brothers’ Cuba
For 59 years, from 1959 to 2018, Cuba was ruled with an iron hand by Fidel Castro, for the first 49 years (1959-2008), and by Raúl Castro for the last ten years (2008-2018). Demographically, the Castro brothers’ regime extended to two generations of Cubans.
Fidel governed Cuba for 47 years as prime minister (1959-1976) and president in office (1976-2008). On July 31, 2006, due to medical reasons, he transferred his presidential powers to his brother, Raúl. Fidel died at the age of 90 on November 25, 2016, in Havana.
Raúl was an acting president from July 31, 2006, to February 24, 2008, and in office from February 24, 2008, to April 19, 2018. On February 24, 2013, Raúl was re-elected president, but shortly thereafter he announced that his second term would be his final term, and that he would not seek re-election in 2018.
On December 21, 2017, he announced on state television that he would step down as Cuban president on April 19, 2018, after his successor is elected by the National Assembly following parliamentary elections.
However, the 86-year-old Raúl Castro retains his powerful position of First Secretary of the Communist Party, Cuba’s ruling party and his seat representing Santiago de Cuba municipality in the National Assembly.
2. Post-Castro Cuba
On April 18, 2018, Miguel Díaz-Canel was selected as the only candidate to succeed Castro as president.
He was confirmed by a vote of the National Assembly on April 19, 2018, the day before his 58th birthday. Díaz-Canel is a party technocrat, little-known to the public, born after the 1959 Cuban Revolution and not a member of the Castro family.
He was appointed minister of higher education in May 2009, and on March 22, 2012, he became vice president of the Council of Ministers (deputy prime minister). In 2013, he additionally became first vice president of Cuba, acting as a deputy to the then-President Raúl Castro.
Miguel Díaz-Canel is expected to pursue the cautious path to reform of Raúl’s economic policies, while preserving the country’s social structure. Undoubtedly, he will soon face a series of challenges.
3. Current Challenges
The first challenge is the Stalinist-style centrally planned economy of the last six decades that has turned Cuba into a third-world country, still looking like in the ‘50s. The second challenge is the disenfranchised population, especially the young generation, prone to change. And last but not least, the third challenge is president Trump’s unorthodox methods to get deals done in his own terms.
Cuba signaled a timid path to reform in 2014, the reason for which Castro and former US president Barack Obama reached an agreement to renew diplomatic ties and improve relations. The détente led to an increase in US visits and investment in Cuba, a nation in suffering because of a many-decade-long imposed embargo.
However, since president Trump assumed office in January 2017, he has reversed the course, neutralizing most of Cuba’s advantages gained just for a short period of time. Trump put a stop to doing business with some Cuban state-run companies and tightened rules for US visitors. The diplomatic incident that created a mystery illness among US diplomats in Havana has also undermined trust.
Díaz-Canel emphasized in his first speech as a president the need to modernize the country’s economy and that the new period would be characterized by “modernization of the economic and social model,” without getting into many details.
If he wants to cut a deal with his powerful neighbor in the North, Miguel Díaz-Canel’s time to make the next move is now. He should look no farther than his brothers-into-ideology, China’s president Xi Jinping and North Korea’s “Little Rocket Man” Kim Jong-un.