Latin America & Caribbean

Miguel Díaz-Canel: The man succeeding the Castros

Cuba's First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel listens to Vietnam's Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong (not pictured) at the University of Havana, in Havana, Cuba March 29, 2018. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Miguel Díaz-Canel has been Cuba's first vice-president since 2013

Cuban President Raúl Castro has stepped down almost 12 years after he first took over presidential duties when his brother Fidel fell ill. It marks the end of an era for Cuba, which has been ruled by the Castros since Fidel toppled the government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. So who is the man who is succeeding Raúl Castro?

Miguel Díaz-Canel may have had a relatively low profile when he was first appointed vice-president of Cuba's Council of State in 2013, but he has since become Raúl Castro's right-hand man.

For the past five years, he has been groomed for the presidency and the handover of power. But even before being named first vice-president, the 57-year-old had already had a long political career.

Steady rise

He was born in April 1960, little over a year after Fidel Castro was first sworn in as prime minister.

Read more about the Castros:

He studied electrical engineering and began his political career in his early 20s as a member of the Young Communist League in Santa Clara, a city which was the site of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution and which to this day is dominated by the Che Guevara Mausoleum.

While teaching engineering at the local university, he worked his way up the ranks of the Young Communist League, becoming its second secretary at the age of 33.

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Image caption Mr Díaz-Canel is said to be more accessible than the Castro brothers

He also played a key role in the Communist Party in his native province of Villa Clara, which during his time at the helm of the provincial government was said to have enjoyed more freedoms than other parts of the country.

Rock concerts went ahead here that would have been banned elsewhere, locals say, and since 1985 the city has been the home of one of Cuba's most famous LGBT cultural centres, El Mejunje.

Its owner said the club would not have survived had it not been for Mr Díaz-Canel's backing. The club welcomed "anyone different" at a time when communist Cuba did not.

'No upstart'

Despite his steady work at provincial level, it took Mr Díaz-Canel another 10 years, until 2003, to make it onto the Politburo, the Communist Party's executive committee.

In 2009, he was elevated to the post of minister of higher education and in 2013 he finally made it to vice-president.

His steady rise and "ideological firmness" was praised by the man who has been his main backer, Raúl Castro.

At the time that he made him his number two, Mr Castro insisted that Mr Díaz-Canel was "no upstart", a compliment in a party which has been dominated by those who fought alongside Fidel Castro in the revolution.

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Image caption Raúl Castro is expected to continue to steer Cuba's policy even after he steps down

But even though Mr Díaz-Canel has now been groomed for the past five years to take over from President Raúl Castro, it is hard to know where he stands on key issues.

Most analysts agree that even if he wants to shake things up, Mr Díaz-Canel's hands will be tied, especially as Raúl Castro is expected to continue to exert considerable influence on state policy even after stepping down as president.

Mr Castro is expected to retain a key position in the Communist Party and not relinquish control to his handpicked successor until he has made sure that the latter will continue to steer the course the Castro brothers set over the past decades.

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