Miguel Diaz-Canel is Cuba’s Communist Party leader

Miguel Diaz-Canel

HAVANA – The ruling  Cuban Communist Party on Monday elected President Miguel Diaz-Canel to replace Raul Castro as party chief.

The succession marks the end of six decades of rule by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro, who led a 1959 revolution in the Caribbean island nation of 11 million..

The election of Diaz-Carnel, 60, came as part of a broader reshuffle of the party’s political bureau at a four-day congress held largely behind closed doors under the banner of “Unity and Continuity”.

“Comrade Raul … will be consulted on the most important strategic decisions of greatest weight for the destiny of our nation. He will always be present,” Diaz-Canel told hundreds of delegates in his first speech as party chief, his dark suit and red tie contrasting with Castro’s military fatigues.

Castro would also continue to dispense guidance and “alerts in the face of any error or deficiency,” he said.

The reshuffle of the political bureau, the party’s highest decision-making body in between sessions of the broader central committee, includes the appointment of Brigadier-General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja, head of the armed forces’ enterprises which control swathes of the economy.

Diaz-Canel has emphasized continuity since becoming president and is not expected to move Cuba away from its one-party socialist system, although he will be under pressure to undertake economic reforms.

New U.S. sanctions and the pandemic have exacerbated the woes of Cuba’s already ailing centrally planned economy, with widespread shortages of even basic goods spawning multi-hour lines outside stores across the country.

Diaz-Canel said on Monday the economy had shown itself to be durable. Cuba had preserved social achievements – like universal healthcare and education – while showing solidarity with other countries during the pandemic, sending them doctors, he said.

He also sent a warning shot to opposition activists, in the wake of a growing movement of dissident artists and journalists who have been staging provocative performances or small protests.

Dissent has been strengthened by the rollout of the internet, giving Cubans more platforms to express their frustrations in a country where public spaces are tightly controlled.