Cuban leader Fidel Castro died Friday last week and his brother Raul Castro — the current president of the country — is expected to step down from office in 15 months, paving the way for heir apparent Miguel Diaz-Canel to be tasked with leading the country at a crucial time when neighboring United States under Donald Trump is expected to put pressure on the island nation in diplomatic matters.
Miguel Diaz-Canel, 56, is currently serving as the younger Castro’s vice president, a position he was promoted to in 2013, after almost 30 years of climbing the Communist Party’s hierarchy. After serving in provincial positions and as minister of higher education, Diaz-Canel became the youngest-ever member of the Politburo at the age of 43. Other members are mosty those who fought in the 1959 communist revolution.
An electrical engineer by profession, Diaz-Canel is also a Beatles fan who has maintained an impressive presence on social media, posting pictures with the president routinely, in an internet-starved country. Diaz-Canel has pushed for press and internet freedom during his time in office, a move that could spell trouble for the one-party state where the government has maintained a monopoly over the media for almost 60 years.
“He is well-liked, young, well-educated, and he's gone through all the different hoops. That he is admired in the often snippy world of university circles is very significant and shows he has the talent for handling people,” Professor Rafael Betancourt of the University of Havana told the Latin Post.
Even though Diaz-Canel has maintained a low profile, he has been seen sporting jeans and jackets, very different from the country’s past and present leaders who stuck with their military fatigues. While described as witty and relaxed in private, the young leader has a weaker public profile and has refrained from commenting on key issues such as reforms or relations with the United States, making it tough to gauge the steps he could taken if he is appointed.
Born a year after the 1959 revolution, Diaz-Canel has been careful to never overshadow President Castro, unlike some of the apparent successors who rose in recent years only to be struck down for being too ambitious or challenging older leaders.
“He has the advantage of having outlived his predecessors (as heir apparent),” Christopher Sabatini, a Cuba expert at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, told Reuters on Monday.
If he takes over, Diaz-Canel will be the first civilian president of the country since the revolution, a fact that could work for him if he is able to appeal to the younger generations of the country, or against him if he steers too far from the Communist Party’s agenda.