Cuba and Passing the Baton

Miguel Diaz Canel moves into the number two position

By Fernando Ravsberg*

Miguel Díaz Canel
Miguel Diaz Canel will succeed Raul Castro as head of the government. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — “Look at this. It’s the party secretary of the province,” said a friend as I pointed to a young, 35-year-old man standing in line at a pizzeria in the city of Santa Clara. It was hard to identify him. He had long hair and was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

People told me that he traveled around town by bicycle, only using his official car when he had to leave the city. It was said that some senior members of the Communist Party didn’t look upon him favorably; they complained about him not dressing or acting like a first secretary.

I first learned about him when I went out to his province to cover a national transvestite festival taking place at “Mejunje,” a cultural center in Santa Clara where transvestite shows alternate with rock concerts, old-time bolero performances, a gay disco, an art gallery and other concerts.

Those were very difficult years [mid 1990s] for this unique sanctuary of the LGBT community, an oasis in the arid hostility of homophobia. I remember one official going so far as to complain about how I shouldn’t have mentioned Che Guevara’s relationship with that city in that same article about transvestites.

Silverio, the person who founded and still runs Mejunje, explained that the center survived thanks in part to Miguel Diaz Canel, who took a lot of heat from his higher-ups. “That’s why when we gave him our book, we wrote an inscription in it that said: ‘Thank you for your support.’”

The truth is that while police in Havana were stopping “men dressed like women” for inciting public scandals, transvestites in Santa Clara walked the streets, went to college and even put on shows without anyone bothering them.

This cultural openness gave more latitude to additional marginalized groups, as evidenced by a powerful movement of “rockers” that emerged there and the nation’s tattoo aficionados choosing that city for their annual meetings.

In Santa Clara, being “different” began to stop being a stigma.

On any Saturday night in the downtown’s Vidal Park, one can see an example of social integration. On the same benches sit campesinos, bolero-loving grandparents, rockers and transvestites, while a couple of cops will survey the scene — nonchalantly — from the corner.

Raul Castro announced the nomination, with the support of Fidel Castro. Photo: Raquel Perez
Raul Castro announced the nomination, with the support of Fidel Castro. Photo: Raquel Perez

From Villa Clara he was sent to Holguin Province. A person who worked with him said he was sent there to reorganize everything. People said that corruption was so pervasive that it seemed uncontrollable. He was therefore assigned to radically cleanup the problem, but very discreetly.

Raul Castro brought him in from that province to reform higher education, which had become too massive, abstract and detached from the country’s economy. The challenge was enormous because the task involved fighting against ideas entrenched in society.

A teacher told me that when he was the Minister of Higher Education, the first thing he did was to visit the University of Havana to listen to senior professors who complained that they’d been suggesting alternatives for years but that no one had ever acted on them.

It’s said that after his first meeting with them, he asked some of those same teachers to instruct him on the subject of higher education. From then on, he was seen arriving there each day at around 6 p.m. – as if he were a simple student once again.

For us journalists, he’ll be an uphill struggle because he’s not very fond of making statements to the press. He keeps a low media profile that allows him to move more freely but forces us to work that much harder.

Diaz Canel was born after the revolution and he’s moved up the ladder of power rung by rung, always relying on his efficient management of each task entrusted to him. Distant from the capital city, he developed leadership qualities typical of those who are forced to fend for themselves.

His appointment as second in command has just positioned him as the Communist Party candidate for president in the next elections. Through him, the historic leadership of the revolution has made a definite step in the generational transfer of power.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.


13 thoughts on “Cuba and Passing the Baton

  • I fail to understand your disconnect between supporting capitalism, which I do and wishing that Cubans, through democracy, have a future where they are able to determine their own destiny. I would be more supportive of socialism but for the fact that it has never existed save in the minds of folks wearing Che t-shirts and green caps with red stars.

  • If for no other reason than seeing the U.S response to Canel’s accession to the leadership of the revolution , I would love to see him take power tomorrow.

    It is my contention that were he to continue all-out support for a socialist economy, the U.S would continue its 50+year war on the people of Cuba because the often-repeated reason of Cuba having a Castro/dictator at the helm, is a convenient lie and that it is and always was Cuba’s socialist economy that the U.S. wants to eliminate.

    It is no secret that the U.S has always supported the worst dictators in the world as long as they opposed socialism or were anti-communist.

    We shall soon see how this works out as it is my belief that Raul intends to step down within a couple of years and well before the end of hi current term in office.

  • As someone who supports capitalism, why would you want a democratic Cuban society ?

  • Well spoken, Dr Jones. The best rebuttal to the masked operatives who troll this forum daily to dump their anti-Cuba propaganda.

    Nevertheless, those of us who support the promise of the original Cuban revolution, and stand in opposition to its imperial-sponsored mercenary adversaries must have an objective and frank discussion over current events. In particular I must point out a pathology that has been regarded as normal in political life in Cuba. I raise the issue of the preponderance of appointments of non-blacks to the highest positions in the Cuban political structure as the norm.

    Universal principles must be applied to he examination of all issues, let the axe fall where it may. Racism must be denounced when it occurs in the US, and equally when it occurs in Cuba or anywhere else on the planet.

    In the aftermath of the recent Cuban parliamentary session and its rubber-stamp elections and personal appointments by the head of the historic leadership, nothing could be more clearer about the intractability of the racialist pathology. .

    I hail the appointments of Mercedes López Acea, 47, First Party Secretary in Havana; and union leader Salvador Valdés Mesa, 64 to the vice-presidency. I acknowledge the appointment of Lazo Hernandez to the Presidency of Peoples Power (even though it is a powerless position within a rubber-stamp institution). But at this stage, in the winter of their lives, the “historicos” have consistently demonstrated their preference for non-blacks in critical positions. In appointing a successor, Raul Castro could not help being true to himself and envisioning in his mind that only a nice “Gallego” boy like Diaz-Canel was the sole possible and qualified candidate for heading Cuba in the future. It’s almost like the ancient royal dynasties who married among themselves to keep commoners away. In 50-plus years the historicos, in spite of all the revolutionary rhetoric and polemical dialectics, could not rise above racialism, and have ruled as if keeping the purity of their gene pool was part of the goals of the revolution. They have learnt nothing from the betrayals of other “nice, Gallego boys” like Robaina, Perez-Roque and Lage.

    Bereft of inclusiveness in Cuban political governance, Afro-Cubans may want to vigorously consider avenues of economic empowerment before it is too late. The most obvious prospect is to take advantage of the state usufruct program and acquire as much land as possible through the formation of cooperatives of independent farmers. The agricultural front will be the first stage of unbridled capitalist monopoly restoration unless cooperatives of organized independent farmers actively pursue land acquisition. Perhaps Dr Jones, as a veterinarian, can be a major advocate of this call to action in the Afro-Cuban community.

  • There is only on Castro and that’s El Comandante. Nobody in the last 50 years comes close to him. Like him or not.

  • You have conveniently left out an equal number of clowns from the Democratic Party. Until you realize that these mentally and morally challenged politicians from both parties must be flushed out, you just don’t get it.

  • Hmmm…from what I see from the article, what Miguel Diaz Canel has accomplished in Santa Clara, and later, to reform higher education, he sound like he is someone who actually brings diverse sectors of the population together, and someone who actually listens, rather than shooting from the hip right away; both are qualities needed in a leader. More power to this new generation of pragmatists and technocrats!

  • Really? That too bad since they say that Alejandro has the personality of a house plant. I am still going to go with door #3 and choose a democratic revolution that sends all of the living Castros headed for the hills (or Venzuelan villas).

  • One person who comes to mind is Alejandro Castro Espin. As the son of Raul, he has the royal pedigree, and as a colonel in the Ministry of the Interior he has a fat file on everybody else in the upper echelons of the regime, including Diaz-Canel. When the time comes, expect Alejandro to make his move.

  • Here is the difference: in all of those countries you named, the leadership, competent or otherwise still had to reach some measure of consensus in making these ill-fated decisions. It has been said that modern democracy at this level is a lot like herding cats. Fidel only had Fidel to answer to and he still screwed it up.

  • Wow? I had not thought of that. But you are right. Oh nooooooo! Maybe another Castro!

  • How can some of us be so judgmental and pessimistic with “certain” individuals, while putting up with mentally challenged George W. Bush and Brown from FEMA who left Katrina victims to drown in New Orleans or proven liars and conspirators Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleezzaa, Powell, Tennett, Wolfowitz et. al, who led the United States into its longest, most costly and traumatizing war in its history?

    Although we may not know much about Miguel Diaz-Canel, can we compare him with Ted Acken, Eric Canter, John Boehner and other fools in Congress, who are bringing down the country they claim to love.

    Logic suggests, to bet on those individuals who lost overnight 40% of their income and survived, rather than on the “Wise Men” in Spain, Italy and Greece with enormous financial resources steering a sinking ship or those running a country into sequestration and over the cliff, incapable of resolving a 2% difference in a 15 trillion dollars economy!!

  • The man described above is not a leader. He’s a dutiful, dull, if reasonably competent lieutenant. Notice that Diaz-Canel has no power base in the real power centres of the island: the Cuban Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Interior, or the huge state owned corporation GAESA.

    Perhaps Diaz-Canel not really the heir-apparent, but a place holder for the real successor?

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