First non-Castro to lead Cuba in six decades

Cuban first Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel (R) attends the opening of the XXVII Havana International Book Fair in Havana, on February 1, 2018. The book fair is dedicated to China. / AFP PHOTO / ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)


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

The silver-haired 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.

In a speech after his appointment he vowed to keep the Caribbean island on the path of “revolution,” but also on the path of economic reform.

“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 Castro, he said.

Mr Diaz-Canel was elected in a landmark vote of the National Assembly a day before his 58th birthday.

The chamber erupted into applause as the results were read out, with many of the delegates smiling, and shaking hands warmly with Mr Castro and Mr Diaz-Canel.

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

Then the 86-year-old Mr Castro raised his successor’s arm in the air in victory, prompting another wave of applause from the delegates – some were in their shirt sleeves, while others wore military fatigues.

Between them, father of the nation Fidel 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.

Raul has been in power since 2006, when he took over after illness sidelined Fidel, who seized power in the revolution.

Mr Diaz-Canel, who has spent years climbing the party ranks, was named the sole candidate for the presidency on Wednesday.

Thursday’s symbolic vote took place on the anniversary of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, when Fidel’s forces defeated 1,400 US-backed rebels seeking to overthrow him.