After the Castros: on Cuban politics

As Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez assumes charge as Cuba’s first ‘non-Castro’ leader in decades, Havana-watchers will look for cues of change or continuity in a country that once symbolised global anti-imperialist revolution. With Latin America’s socialist upsurge of the last decade in retreat and Cuba’s economy in anything but robust health, the answers should be evident. Mr. Díaz-Canel is a veteran Communist Party apparatchik, who served as Vice President during Raúl Castro’s second five-year term since 2013. It will be no easy task for the former education minister, handpicked by Mr. Castro, to stamp his authority over a rigid bureaucratic and party apparatus. But Mr. Díaz-Canel can count on Mr. Castro’s political backing as the latter is expected to continue as head of the party and the armed forces for some more years. Sustaining Cuba’s education and health-care services will be a formidable challenge for the President. In the absence of the handsome bailouts of the Venezuelan oil boom time or the Soviet-era subsidies, the government should prioritise attention to these basic services. Another challenge is to reform the economy to attract more investment to major industry sectors and to boost growth and jobs.


Mr. Díaz-Canel is the country’s first high-ranking politician to be elevated from among those outside the young guerrillas who fought in the Cuban revolution. It may therefore be reasonable to expect a more pragmatic stance on Havana’s part towards its ideological opponents, notwithstanding the pre-eminence of the Communist Party — even if the détente between the U.S. and Cuba that began during Barack Obama’s presidency has been in something of a limbo under Donald Trump. The spotlight in recent days has inevitably shone on the transition after the long Castro legacy in Latin America. In this process, an important aspect about the beginning of a new chapter should not be overlooked. Mr. Díaz-Canel’s ascent bucks the regional trend where leaders routinely seek recourse to constitutional meddling to secure extensions of presidential tenures. The succession plan was more or less scripted by Mr. Castro at the commencement of his second term in 2013, when he spoke of age and term limits for high office. It would be cynical to dismiss the development as no more than a cosmetic change within the larger framework of Cuba’s one-party rule. But then, there are countries across the world where many populists and strongmen have tinkered with the constitution to extend their terms in office, reducing competitive party politics to a charade. Mr. Díaz-Canel’s is a leadership change that Cuba should make the most of, in order to refresh its domestic and foreign policies.


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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 12:27:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/after-the-castros/article23674278.ece

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