Miguel Diaz Canel moves into the number two position
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.
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.