Miguel Diaz-Canel became the face of generational change in Cuba, as Communist Party leaders on Sunday tapped him to succeed Raul Castro as president in five years’ time.
Diaz-Canel, 52, was formally elected first vice-president of Cuba’s Council of State, putting him first in the line of succession to the presidency.
If Diaz-Canel takes office as planned in 2018, he would be the first leader in more than a half-century not to have the surname Castro.
An electrical engineer by training, and former education minister, Diaz-Canel since March has been one of the eight vice-presidents on the Council of Ministers.
He took the number two spot from Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 82, who relinquished the post but remains among Cuba’s vice-presidents.
Raul Castro is nearly 30 years his senior. So the announced change represents a stunning generational change in a country which over the decades has become renowned for the long political careers of Fidel Castro and Raul Castro firmly at Cuba’s helm.
Diaz-Canel is however but one of a new generation of up-and-comers boldly leading Cuba into its post-Castro future.
Other political leaders of his generation include Marino Murillo, 52, an economist in charge of overseeing Castro’s economic reforms; and Bruno Rodriguez, 55, who has been foreign minister since 2009.
As Castro’s surprisingly spry political heir, Diaz-Canel cuts a starkly different profile from others in the revolutionary leadership, whose members are mostly in their 80s.
The same meeting of the Cuban National Assembly that saw Diaz-Canel elevated to the country’s number two also saw Raul Castro was ratified as president for his second and last five-year term.
Castro this week suggested that he was eager for a changing of the guard, when he made a joking reference about quitting office.
“I am going to resign. I am about to turn 82. I have the right to retire. Don’t you believe me?” Castro said, smiling to reporters after accompanying Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the old Soviet cemetery near Havana.
On a more serious note, in a nationally broadcast speech on Sunday he called the “historic” naming of Diaz-Canel a “final step in configuring the country’s future leadership, through the slow and orderly transfer of the main leadership positions to new generations.”
Castro recently limited a president’s time in office to two five-year terms, to ensure that future leaders of the country are likely to be sprightlier than he and his older brother Fidel, who preceded him as president.
Fidel Castro was the leader of the Cuban revolution and the island nation’s president for decades, but was forced to step down in 2006 because of illness, formally ceding power to Raul in 2008.
Indeed, if Diaz-Canel he comes to lead Cuba, he would be the first leader of the regime whose entire life has been under the Castro regime which started in January 1959.
A former military man, Diaz-Canel also has been a university professor in his home province, Villa Clara. A careful and deliberate speaker, he also has been a leader of the Communist Youth Union, and went on an international “mission” to Nicaragua during the first leftist Sandinista government.
Diaz-Canel over the years rose up the political ranks, leading the party in Villa Clara in central Cuba, before being chosen to lead it in Holguin province in the east. He was bumped up to the Politburo in 2003.
In recent months, Diaz-Canel has become more prominent in official media. He already has stood in for Raul Castro at presidential inaugurations in other nations.