Cuba's Communist Party chooses Miguel Díaz-Canel as leader
HAVANA (AP) - In many ways, Cuba's new maximum leaders are none other than those who have ruled the island for the past six decades.
Miguel Díaz-Canel was never a guerrilla fighter and, like all Cubans of his generation, was only a soldier for a few years. He rose peacefully and diligently through the approved channels. And his name is not Castro.
On Monday, as expected, the Cuban Communist Party Congress elected Díaz-Canel as chairman, adding that crucial post to the title of President he assumed in 2018. In both cases, he replaces his mentor Raul Castro (89), who sealed a politician dynasty that had ruled power since the 1959 revolution.
Díaz-Canel, who will turn 61 on Tuesday, is a relatively young man compared to members of the generation who accompanied Fidel Castro in his struggle against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and then stayed in power decade after decade while he was one Soviet-style politics consolidated the system.
Born a year after the revolution in the west-central city of Santa Clara, he is said to have tried his hand at minor irregularities as a youth - he wore long hair and followed the Beatles in a communist nation that was closely linked to the Soviet Union, and then they as an instrument of cultural imperialism.
He earned an engineering degree and devoted himself to official politics. He rose to a senior position in the Union of Young Communists and then took on a number of bureaucratic positions in the Cuban provinces, where he developed a gracious, informal reputation as a pragmatic administrator in dealing with the public.
In 2009, a year after Raul Castro officially replaced Fidel as Cuban President, Díaz-Canel became Minister for Higher Education. In 2012 he was promoted to one of the Vice Presidents of Cuba and was soon named first Vice President.
A number of other promising young officials had been seen as heirs to the Castros over the years, only to fall because they were too quick to pretend too much power, delved into questionable business, or caught in unguarded moments of indiscreet comments gave up the leadership.
But Díaz-Canel didn't seem to be pushing, and he didn't stumble. He steadfastly defended the system against dissident and US hostilities, while appearing open to push for limited reforms that were gushing from the population - and at a pace that did not worry his bosses.
When he replaced Raul as president in 2018, he drove some reforms that the government had already begun to open up what was once a fully state-dominated economy. Cuba allowed more small private businesses and made life a little easier for some small ones. Scale entrepreneur.
Over the past few months, he has been overseeing the end of an inept system of dual currencies and further opening up to small businesses. The new party congress should go further. For many, it is crucial that Cuba has finally made widespread use of the Internet possible.
But there was no opening at all to dissident political movements, even if the controls - as in recent years - aimed at harassment, surveillance and short-term imprisonment rather than sending people to prison for decades.
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