UPDATE: Cuban assembly officially confirms replacement for Raul Castro

UPDATE — 4/19, 10:16 a.m. EDT: Cuba’s National Assembly officially confirmed Miguel Díaz-Canel as president Thursday, succeeding Raul Castro.

Under current law, presidential tenures in Cuba are limited to two terms of five years each.

 

In a widely anticipated move in Havana on Wednesday, Cuban First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel was appointed the successor to President Raul Castro.

Although his nomination to become the next dictator of Cuba requires the approval of Cuba’s Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular (National Assembly of People’s Power), Díaz-Canel is expected to assume the reins of power in Havana on Thursday, April 19.

An extraordinary shift, the transfer in power from Castro to Díaz-Canel signals the end of an era in the tiny Caribbean island nation:  For the first time since Marxist revolutionary Fidel Castro seized power in January 1959, a Castro will not rule over Cuba.

Díaz-Canel is also the first Cuban leader not to have participated alongside the Castro brothers and fellow Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in the struggle to remove Cuba’s previous dictator, U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista.

A longtime member of Cuba’s decision-making body, the politburo, Díaz-Canel, 57, has served as first vice president since 2013.

Known as a Marxist-Leninist theologian, Díaz-Canel is trained as an engineer and served in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba.  He briefly taught University of Las Villas before moving into politics in 1993.

Working his way up the Communist Party apparatus, Díaz-Canel served as the leader in two key provincial party posts in Villa Clara and Holguín, before impressing party leaders and earning a position in the Cuban Cabinet, serving as Minster of Higher Education 2009-12.

Gradually assuming more responsibilities, Díaz-Canel became slightly more of a public presence, often accompanying Fidel and Raul Castro at state functions, but often remained behind the curtains.  As his influence expanded, Díaz-Canel was often tasked with greeting foreign dignitaries and frequently represented Cuba abroad.

Although the transfer in power resembles a tectonic shift, little is expected to change.  Raul Castro, who took over power in Havana from his brother Fidel in 2013, had announced then he would not serve beyond 2018.  Castro, however, will remain as head of Cuba’s Communist Party.

According to Cuba’s constitution, the party is defined as “the superior guiding force of society and the state.”

Poised to take power, Díaz-Canel assumes a stagnating Cuban economy, and is confronted with high inflation and persistent unemployment.  Additionally, he faces a change in attitude from his U.S. neighbor to the north.

Along with China, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea, Cuba remains one of the few remaining communist-led nations and is the lone communist nations in the Western Hemisphere.

 

[BBC] [AP] [NBC News] [Photo courtesy Omara García Mederos/ACN/Handout via Reuters]