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Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez

The Cuban National Assembly extended its legislative period to April 18, 2018. The move effectively changed the end date of Cuban president Raul Castro's tenure. The decision was made due to the "exceptional situation" created by Hurricane Irma's impact on the island this September, which caused significant infrastructure damage and left ten people dead.

When Raul Castro began his second term as president in 2013, he pledged that it would be his last. The leader said he would retire at the end of the current legislative period, which was initially slated to end on February 24, 2018. The new timeline delayed the historic transition of presidential power by two months. General elections for the National Assembly typically follow the expiration of the legislative period. Cubans will elect the 600 members of the legislative body, which then selects the powerful 31-member Council of State, whose leader will become the next president.

Exactly 118 years after the resumption of the necessary war, which was organized and led by the Cuban revolutionary Jos Mart, on 24 February 2013, the so-called "historical generation" began the transition of leadership to a new generation. Jose Ramon Machado Ventura made available to his post as first Vice President, and he himself proposed Miguel Daz-Canel to occupy it. Raul Castro said this was a step in "defining in shaping the future direction of the country through the gradual and orderly transfer to the new generation..."

Raul Castro was reelected 24 February 2013 as Cuba's president in what was expected to be his last official five-year term. According to state media, the National Assembly of People's Power approved Castro as president along with 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez as his first vice president, and presumably the next President of Cuba. The second position in the hierarchy of the Cuban State is defined by the Constitution as the successor to the President in case of absence.

He has been a member of the Party Central Committee since 1991 and of the Political Bureau since 2003. But Diaz-Canel has no power base in the real power centers of the island: the Cuban Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Interior, or the huge state owned corporation GAESA. It is not one minor detail that a man who was born a year after the triumph of the revolution is the new first Vice President of the Council of State and Ministers. But not by generational merit was he chosen. Raul was clear in warning that Diaz Canel "is not an upstart or a makeshift" and cited his career of nearly 30 years of revolutionary service from the base.

Earlier in the day, retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro made a rare public appearance at the opening session of the National Assembly in Havana. Assembly members gave Castro a standing ovation. President Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, called for two five-year terms for Communist Party and government leaders. The 81-year-old president raised speculation about a possible retirement, suggesting that he had plans to resign at some point. During his first term, Raul Castro presided over limited reforms that included the gradual easing of restrictions on travel and personal property.

Miguel Diaz-Canel replaced Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, one of the historicos of the guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Cuba's 614 delegates to the National Assembly (NA) convened on 24 February 2008 to elect the country's ruling 31-member Council of State (CoS). The new council leadership consisted of Raul Castro as president and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura as first vice president. The international press, and diplomatic corps, obsession with Machado Ventura as a hard-liner is highly exaggerated. Machado has been a hard-liner all his life because Fidel was a hard-liner. There is nothing inherent in Machado, or any of the others in the new Council of State, that makes them true ideologues of any viewpoint other than that of Fidel. Machado Ventura was widely perceived as more loyal to Raul than any other official within the Cuban Regime. This loyalty was the primary factor in Machado's appointment, as Raul considers internal stability and preservation of the status quo as his chief objectives in this period of transition, far more important than economic progress. Raul and the "old guard" were not trusting of Cuba's younger generation, and postulated that they would cling to power as long as they could.

The inauguration of the new legislature of the National Assembly of the Popular power (ANPP) marked a milestone in the history of the Cuban revolution. Miguel Daz-Canel, electronic engineer of 52 years was elected to Vice President first of the Councils of State (EC). A major step in the transfer by the historical direction of the revolution to new generations of the highest responsibilities of the State, which has to be "gradual and orderly" in the next five years, said President Ral Castro. He also said that that this will be his last term.

Compaero Daz Canel (born 20 April 1960) is not a newcomer or an impromptu. He had a work record of almost 30 years, beginning at the base, in the profession which he studied. He is a graduate of the National Defense Collegeand after graduating in 1982, he joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, FAR). After completing his military service in the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) anti-aircraft missile units, 1985 he began teaching in the Central University of Las Villas (UCLV) Faculty of Electrical Engineering.

In 1986, he was proposed as a professional cadre of the Union of Communist Youth [Union de Jovenes Comunistas (UJC)]. He completed an internationalist mission in Nicaragua from 1987-1989, where he served as First Secretary of the UJC. When he returned to the island, he became First Secretary of the UJC for the Villa Clara Provincial Committee. In 1993, taking into consideration his results, he was promoted to the Party, gradually taking on greater responsibilities. He was promoted in 1994 to First Secretary of the Villa Clara Provincial Committee, a position he held for close to 10 years, and then in Holgun for six years. He belonged to a group of party leaders who directed provinces that, being far from the capital, were allowed considerable independence and maneuverability. Indeed, the personal characteristics of a provincial secretary mark the life of the region they govern.

In the case of Villa Clara, the presence of Diaz Canel at the head of the province allowed for a cultural life and tolerance that were rare in other parts of the island. National transvestite festivals were held in his province, which also centered a very large rock movement. This cultural openness gave more latitude to additional marginalized groups, as evidenced by a powerful movement of rockers that emerged there and the nations tattoo aficionados choosing that city for their annual meetings.

This was a far cry from the infamous Units of Military Assistance to Production (UMAP), which in the late sixties forcefully recruited "deviants" (primarily religious believers, hippies, homosexuals, and intellectuals), put them in work camps, and subjected them to infrahuman condition.

From Villa Clara he was sent to Holguin Province. He became First Secretary for the Province of Holguin in 2003 and in the same year Gen. Raul Castro promoted him as member of the Cuban Communist Party Politburo. 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 countrys economy.

In May 2009, he moved on to undertake governmental functions, first as Minister of Higher Education and, from 22 March 2012, as Vice President of the Council of Ministers responsible for attending to various bodies linked to education, science, sports and culture. On the other hand, he participated on a weekly basis in the governments Financial Economic Commission, and in the Political Bureau Commission supervising the implementation of 6th Congress agreements. At the VIII Legislature of the National Assembly, held February 24, 2013, he was named Vice President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers.

On February 25, 2013, Patrick Ventrell, Deputy US State Deparment Spokesperson, was asked about Miguel Diaz-Canel at the Daily Press Briefing in Washington, DC.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to Raul Castro saying he will not seek reelection in five years time?

MR. VENTRELL: So, Brad, we are indeed aware of the reports that President Castro, Raul Castro, announced his intention to step down in 2018 after another five-year term. We also saw the announcement that Mr. Miguel Diaz-Canel was named First Vice President. We remain hopeful for the day that the Cuban people get democracy, when they can have the opportunity to freely pick their own leaders in an open democratic process and enjoy the freedoms of speech and association without fear of reprisal. Were clearly not there yet.

QUESTION: Hold on, hold on. Im glad youre aware. I guess that confirms that not everybody in the U.S. Government slept through the entire weekend. But do you have an actual reaction? Do you have a position on whether this is a good step, whether this is helpful in that process toward a freer, fairer, Cuba as you stated?

MR. VENTRELL: I think --

QUESTION: Or just that you know that things happened in the world over the last 48 hours?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, no. I mean, I think, Brad, what were saying is that weve noted that its happened, but clearly, a change in leadership that, absent the fundamental democratic reforms necessary to give people their free will and their ability to pick their own leaders, wont be a fundamental change for Cuba.

QUESTION: So this is not enough; they still need to do more if they want to, one, improve the state of their country and, two, repair relations with the United States?

MR. VENTRELL: Absolutely.

U.S. policy toward Cuba is focused on encouraging democratic and economic reforms, supporting the development of civil society in Cuba, promoting respect for human rights, and supporting the Cuban people. The U.S. Government continues to take steps to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their countrys future.



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