14ymedio, Havana, 19 April 2019 — When completion of his first year in the post of president of the Councils of State and Ministers, the performance of Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez is mediocre, with more stepping on the brakes than progress in the field of reforms, with the shadow of Raúl Castro dulling his prominence.
For most Cubans, it has been twelve months in which the scarcity of basic products has increased, in which the official discourse has become more belligerent and in which the country has become increasingly isolated. Instead of the desired economic reforms, the 58-year-old engineer has tried to more strongly control the private sector and also the artistic expression.
The phrase Díaz-Canel repeats most frequently alludes to the continuity of his management with the principles left to him by the so-called historical generation. His constant allusion to “the teachings of Fidel” and “the accurate leadership of Raúl” show him as a ruler lacking in his own ideas who aims only to stand out for a more collegiate style of work.
The international situation has been extremely adverse, with an upsurge in pressure from the Donald Trump administration and the recent package of measures to reinforce the US embargo. The loss of allies in the region coupled with the weakening of some such as Venezuela and Nicaragua — suffering their own internal crises — have reinforced his diplomatic solitude.
The worst moment of Diaz-Canel’s mandate occurred when the caravan in which he traveled was booed by the population as it passed through the municipality of Regla, one of the areas most affected by last January’s tornado. The armored vehicles and the extensive security operation just managed to redouble their speed and leave the place. The short video that recorded the scene went viral in the social networks and unleashed a flood of memes that penetrated deeply in the collective imagination.
The most significant event of his mandate was this year’s discussion and approval of a new Constitution of the Republic, but this document, ratified in a referendum, is seen as a rigid corset left by Raúl Castro so that Díaz-Canel can not undertake major changes, or engage in a process of true democratization.
Arbitrary arrests of activists, police repression and reprisals against opponents and independent journalists have remained, with slight variations. Censorship against independent digital sites and travel restrictions against dissidents continue to be some of the most widely used strategies to control the freedoms of expression, association and the press.
In the international arena, the current president visited the United States to speak at the headquarters of the United Nations, but most of his trips have been in the territory of Cuba’s allies and in very controlled spaces. Thus, he visited Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela, the China of Xi Jinping and North Korea under the iron fist of Kim Jong-un.
Since he became president, he has promoted the presence of officials and ministers in social networks, especially on Twitter. His tweets are characterized by slogans, attacks against the United States and statements of loyalty to Fidel and Raúl Castro. One of the most used labels is, in fact, #SomosContinuidad (We Are Continuity).
Regardless of how it is seen by the Cuban people, the official media has put forth an effort in a campaign that borders on the cult of personality, where he is seen being applauded by people, carrying children and visting with workers. He has spent most of his time visiting provinces and meeting with executives of state companies. In reality the results are lean, but those trips try to send the message that Díaz-Canel “works” and that he is “tied to the people.”
Several tragic events, such as the crash of an airplane where 112 people lost their lives, the fall of a meteorite on the western part of the island, and the unexpected tornado that hit several municipalities in Havana, fueled popular superstition around Diaz-Canel, whom many consider a messenger of bad luck.
The jokes, the nicknames and the epithets are, in Cuba, a kind of “proof of life” for everyone who occupies a position in the official spheres. The first joke that circulated from the first day of his inauguration alluded to that his having taken “command” of the country but not having been given the batteries to be able to operate it.
Subsequently, and after several negative events, popular humor has rebaptized him “sack of salt,” (spilling salt is bad luck). Having not been elected by the vote of citizenship, opponents refer to him as “hand-picked” or “designated” instead of the respectful “president-elect.”
The most suspicious insist that after the approval of the new Constitution, Diaz-Canel will become the president of the Republic, a new position established as of April 10. When he is sworn in for a first term in that position, this year that has passed will not count agains the decade that, according to the legislation, one person can remain at the helm of the country. If so, these will have been just twelve months of trial and testing.
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