14ymedio, Havana, 19 April 2018 — With his gray suit and contented smile, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez rose from his chair to applause when his name resonated on Wednesday in the Cuban Parliament as the only candidate for president of the Council of State. To reach that moment, this 57-year-old electrical engineer spent years of discreet ascent and constant fidelity tests.
Methodical, patient, quiet and docile, this is how colleagues describe this graduate at the University of Villa Clara who has barely practiced his profession. Díaz-Canel has followed, however, the path of the “political cadre” since he joined the Young Communists Union (UJC) in 1987.
The image of the mature man, slightly overweight and gray-haired, that was transmitted by the official media during the first day of the 9th Legislature of the Parliament, strays far from the memory of his childhood friends who recall a thin boy with long hair and a passion for rock.
From that time he remembers a trait that the future president maintains: “He was very respectful and did everything that was demanded of him”
“At that time he was always laughing but now he looks very serious,” says a high school friend who, in the city of Santa Clara, used to go with him to “clubs and fiestas where he drank a lot of rum and there was little talk of politics.” From that time, he remembers a trait that the future president maintains: “He was very respectful and did everything that was demanded of him.”
A follower of The Beatles, a band censored by the Government in the 60s, those who know him say that Diaz-Canel also likes theater and has a special passion for the music of the Nueva Trova movement. “We spent hours listening to songs,” recalls this friend from their teenage years, who still lives Villa Clara.
Díaz-Canel’s first years in the UJC and his first stage in the Communist Party (PCC) happened at a difficult time. Shortly before, in 1986, Fidel Castro had promoted the process of ‘rectification of errors and negative trends’, a step back from the small economic reforms that had been started on the island, such as the existence of agricultural markets managed by farmers.
Soon after, Díaz-Canel experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the deep economic crisis of the so-called ‘Special Period in a Time of Peace’ – after the devastating loss of financial support from the Soviet Union – which affected his political development. When he assumed the position of first secretary of the PCC in Santa Clara in 1994, the country was going through a bad time and more than a few people approached him in the streets to complain about the situation.
“He was like a wailing wall of because people saw him and they fell on him to ask for solutions, but he could not do much,” recalls a resident
“He was like a wailing wall because people saw him and they fell on him to ask for solutions, but he could not do much,” recalls a resident of the Vidal Park area in this central city. He earned a reputation as a sober and honest official, but, above all, of being a man “faithful to the cause.”
In those years, many remember his support for El Mejunje cultural space, which put on transgender shows and was a gathering place for the gay community and also alternative groups and urban tribes in the area.
His passage through Holguin province, also at the head of the PCC between 2003 and 2009, did not garner much praise. Díaz-Canel engaged in an all-out fight against illegalities and he undertook as his personal battle the eradication of the black market in fresh milk that supplied the city.
“He insisted that all the milk that the farmers were selling directly to the people was stolen from the dairies of the rationed market,” recalls another cadre. They were years of drought and “the cows barely produced,” says the former official.
“Every night he would set up an operation of several police patrols at the entrance to the city of Holguín to prevent the guajiros from entering with their carts and the milk they were going to sell later,” he adds. “That caused a lot of inconvenience, because people had to leave the city to buy milk and ultimately the rationed supply did not improve either.”
That stern face appeared again last year in a leaked video in which he lashed out against the independent press and called for content censorship to defend the Revolution. Some considered these images a show of respect necessary to please the Party’s most hard-line, but others read them as sign of the repressive character of his leadership.
That stern appeared again last year in a leaked video in which he lashed out against the independent press and called for content censorship to defend the Revolution
In 2009, the same year that Raúl Castro dealt a devastating blow to Fidel Castro’s “favored sons” – Carlos Valenciaga, Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque – Díaz-Canel was appointed Minister of Higher Education and moved to Havana to lead a sector that was going through difficult times.
Under his mandate, the universities remodeled their curricula, began to install internet access in schools and tried to alleviate the shortage of teachers with student aides. They were years, too, of an ideological resurgence in education and of sticking more tightly to the motto “The University is for the Revolutionaries.”
In 2012 his loyalty was rewarded and he was promoted to vice president of the State Council, and a few months later he would climb to first vice president replacing the orthodox José Ramón Machado Ventura. From that moment his public projection began to be more cautious and careful.
The father of two children from a previous marriage, Díaz-Canel is currently married to Liz Cuesta Peraza, with whom he has appeared in several public events. The unusual image of the first vice president walking hand-in-hand with his wife on a visit to North Korea reverberated strongly in a country that for almost six decades has lacked the figure of the first lady.
Beyond the antipathies or sympathies he triggers, Díaz-Canel achieved what many tried to for decades: to become the favored son to whom the historical generation finally handed over the baton
“He looks more tired and, like almost everyone who gets there, he absorbed the biotype of the hierarchy,” jokes Lisandra, a 28-year-old Cuban. “Now he seems to have aged very fast and gained several inches in his neck and waist,” she says. “It’s a bad sign because that means that he has lost contact with the people and he no longer walks the streets.”
However, beyond the antipathies or sympathies he triggers, Díaz-Canel has achieved what many tried to for decades: to become the favored son to whom the historical generation finally handed over the baton. Born after 1959, with a fresh image and no responsibility for the executions or the confiscations of the first years of the Revolution, the big question now surrounding him is whether he will choose the path of continuity or reform.
For the moment he is cautious, faithful and quiet, characteristics that brought him to the control room of power in Cuba.
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