Havana, April 20 2021: Cuba, famed for the one-party communist leadership of the Castro clan for the past six decades, has marked the end of an era by officially transferring power to Miguel Diaz-Canel who is to become the country’s first civilian leader.
The transition is unlikely to result in major policy shifts as reflected by the statement Diaz-Canel made after officially assuming the reins of leadership. “The most revolutionary thing within the Revolution is to always defend the party, in the same way that the party should be the greatest defender of the Revolution” he said. He further added that the outgoing Raul Castro, the brother of the famed Fidel Castro who is revered as the country’s father and savior, would still be consulted on strategic decisions.
Already Cuba’s president since 2018, Diaz-Canel has now also taken the most senior position of first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. This transition is a landmark moment for the majority Cuban population who have never known a leader who was not a Castro. Fidel Castro led the country for over four decades from 1959 through 2006 when he fell ill and his brother Raul Castro took over. The Castro siblings led a revolution in the 50s which resulted in the over throwing of dictator Fulgencio Batista.
This edition of the PCC congress was held 60 years after Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state, setting up decades of conflict with the United States, which has had sanctions against the country since 1962. The change was met with little policy shift plans from the US, according to White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. She added the US would continue to focus on support for democracy and human rights.
This shift in power comes as Cuba is going through an economic crisis, inflation, food shortage and long lines for basic amenities. The country is one of just five purely communist countries in the world and needs to import a large percentage of what it consumes.
Miguel Gainza, a resident of Havana says he remembers only one party in Cuba since he was born and that no one has dies of hunger in Cuba but since the death of Fidel Castro who solved all their problems, they are a little worried and feel stuck.
The suit-wearing Beatles fan Diaz-Canel may appear more modern than the military uniform favoring Castros, but he is at heart a party disciple and so this transition is unlikely to result in major ideological shifts as evidenced by the new constitution of 2019 which irrevocably promised a commitment to socialism.
The powerful PCC politbureau, the average age of which is 61.6, is chosen by the 114 member central committee, has Diaz-Canel at its head, and includes three women.
Some liberalization has come to the country when the government decided to open the economy for small businesses in sectors which were previously under state control and the arrival of the internet in 2018 has become the symbol of social change and the younger generation are using social media platforms to vent their frustration with how things currently are.
Since then the PCC have decided t confront what they call online political subversion. This move was challenged by free speech activists who claimed their internet was disconnected and that their gatherings were banned. In response, the PCC adopted a congress resolution to confront online political and ideological “subversion”. Even as the congress was underway, a group of free speech activists claimed their internet had been cut and police were preventing them from leaving their homes to stop them from gathering.
Cuba’s ties with the US have been historically tense and Cuba has had sanctions imposed on it by the US since 1962. There was a temporary thaw under president Barack Obama between 2014 and 2016, but things worsened under Donald Trump.
Raul Castro, in his final address to the party affirmed a “willingness to conduct a respectful dialogue and build a new kind of relationship with the United States.” He did however stress upon the younger generation the importance of not renouncing its principles of socialism and the one-party ideology.
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