By Gustavo Andujar
On April 19, the new legislature of the National Assembly, the Cuban parliament, after declaring itself officially in session, elected the new State Council, and Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez as its president, who in Cuba is the chief of state and is also president of the Council of Ministers.
In spite of the intense media exposure to which he has been subjected in recent times – obviously as a part of a systematic effort to increase his popularity – Díaz-Canel, an electronic engineer from Placetas, Villa Clara, who turned 58 on the day after his election, is not well known. He is not a member of the historic leadership of the Revolution, which in the mind of the people have embodied the political power for more than 60 years and have monopolized – particularly with Fidel and Raúl Castro – the moral authority that a large proportion of the population still acknowledges to the small historic nucleus of the Cuban leadership. Comparisons are inevitable, and Díaz-Canel is neither charismatic, nor did he participate in the major campaigns – the guerrilla warfare at the Sierra Maestra, the Campaign for Literacy, the Bay of Pigs battle, the Missile Crisis, etc. – the wonders of which are endlessly acclaimed in Cuba.
The population knows of the work of Cuban vice-presidents – which is what the present president has been until now – through the media, where they are shown only when attending a variety of assemblies and meetings to give awards and diplomas, and perhaps make a speech, or also when they visit economically or socially important projects, where they are briefed on their progress and they make run of the mill recommendations regarding the need for fulfilling quotas, or achieving greater savings, or increasing productivity.
Raúl Castro will remain as First Secretary of the Party, and therefore as the top authority of real power in the country until 2021, when that responsibility will also be relayed to Díaz-Canel, maintaining the style of concentrating the top positions of power in a single person, a characteristic of the Cuban system since 1959.
Life in Cuba is still very difficult, and people dream of an improvement. The arrival of a much younger president, however unknown or unappreciated, always raises expectations. There were no surprises, however, in Díaz-Canel’s first speech as president. Although he acknowledged “the expectations raised by a moment as this one,” he stated that “the mandate of the people is that of continuity.” In fact, “continuity” was the single most repeated word in all Cuban media throughout the generation relay.
“I have not come to promise anything,” he said, but many trust that this is an almost 30 years’ younger man, and also that it is overwhelmingly logical that you are not supposed to expect different results – as obviously needed – if you keep doing the same thing.
Andujar is a member of both the archdiocesan pastoral secretariat in Havana and the social communications secretariat of the Cuban bishops’ conference.