Much speculation in recent weeks has grasped the island nation that sits approximately 90 kilometres off the Key West shorelines of Florida. For the first time since Batista’s fall after the revolution of 1959, someone with the last name “Castro” will not be leading Cuba following Fidel’s brother Raul’s announcement that he will likely retire in 2018.
In the 35-minute speech, the younger Castro hinted at some distinct changes to the framework of the Cuban state, including mention of constitutional reforms and the possibility of term limits to all “elected” officials in the National Assembly. Many of these comments come amid speculation that Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez, the newly appointed first vice president of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, will likely be tapped as the next leader of the fledgling island nation.
Who is Miguel Diaz-Canel? Apart from the obvious fact his last name is not Castro, Miguel remains somewhat of an enigma to Western observers, with him having played the role of a Communist Party stalwart over the last 30 years. Despite his various appointments at political posts within the Party hierarchy, Diaz-Canel’s attributes remain important for a variety of reasons. Firstly, his age upon appointment in 2018 would indicate a significant generational shift within Cuba’s political structure, with the 52-year-old coming to age post-revolution. More importantly, Diaz-Canal’s age may imply a distinct lack in the “historico” blend of Cuban socialism, with no recollection of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion or Cuban Missile Crisis that resulted in jaded leaders on the island nation.
Secondly, Diaz-Canel’s educational background as an electronics engineer implies the possibility of a technocratic reformer in the fashion of China’s “socialist” leaders, which can go hand in hand with Raul’s promotion of economic liberalization, small-scale privatization and a growing (albeit slowly) entrepreneurial class in Cuba.
Lastly, generational transition within the Cuban Communist Party hierarchy points to the Castro brothers’ recognition of needed change within the island nation, with Raul repeatedly calling for “rejuvenation” in the wake of economic disturbances and increasing pressure from the international community for political reform. His role as future Cuban leader is not entirely written in stone, with would-be-chosen successors such as Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque eventually falling out of favour with the Castro’s.
The impact of shifting from the Cold War-era Castro’s to a new era of Cuban politicians will not likely create results in the short term with regard to the now 51-year U.S embargo against the island nation. Resistance amongst Cuban exiles remains strong against lifting the embargo, viewing any transition within Cuba as a potential political “ploy’ aimed at ignoring Cuba serious human rights record and lack of free expression since the Revolution.
Moreover, U.S concerns over the plight of Alan Gross, a USAID worker accused of “crimes against the Cuban state” for bringing satellite phones to the miniscule Jewish community and the Cuban Five, alleged Cuban spies working against the Cuban Exile community in Miami, have remained large sticking points in relations between the two states. Cuban foreign policy, much to the chagrin of U.S Latin America interests, have been swept within the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, which includes the likes of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, former U.S opponent Daniel Ortega and frequent DEA critic Evo Morales of Bolivia. Despite this, demographic changes may lead to changes in U.S policy towards Cuba, with younger Cubans born after the dramas of the Cold War largely voting for Democrats in 2012, whom favours a more progressive policy to the island nation than the historically trusted Republicans. Significant change on the island nation, in this respect, is only a matter of changing generations.
(Featured photo: joephoto08, Creative Commons, Flickr)