14ymedio, Havana, 19 April 2018 — Cuba’s new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, will not take over as head of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) until General Raúl Castro’s term as its leader ends in 2021. Castro himself acknowledged this in a speech last Thursday before the National Assembly as he handed the presidency over to his successor.
“This has been long planned,” explained the former president, casting aside any suggestion that spontaneity played a role in the selection of the new president, a 57-year-old electrical engineer.
Castro also referred to a program of constitutional reforms, which he was unable to fully implement. These include, among other things, a maximum of two five-year terms for the head of state.
Though this particular reform will be ratified, there will be no change to the basic strategic objective: a continuation of the socialist system of government. Article 5 of the Cuban constitution, which provides for the Communist Party to play a leading role in state and government, will be retained.
Another idea floated by the general is the creation of an office of prime minister to attend to matters related to governance. Constitutionally, however, the presidency of both Council of State and Council of Ministers in Cuba are held by the same person.
“We have been having extensive discussions about the formulation to be presented,” said Castro, referring to a future change of command in the Communist Party. He mentioned the possibility that Díaz-Canel might take over as head of the PCC sometime between 2021 and 2031, while in 2028 someone would take over as head of government.
Castro praised his successor’s background, referring to him as a “survivor” of past leadership stuggles. Díaz-Canel is part of a generation of promising younger leaders, others of whom were sacked over allegations of corruption or for being too politically ambitious.
Díaz-Canel “turned out to be the best,” said the former president, who made it clear that he has been grooming his successor for a long time.
“This was not unplanned” and “his rise was not the result of haste or chance,” he added. He emphasized that Díaz-Canel’s “strongly held ideological beliefs, political sensitivity, and commitment and loyalty to the Revolution.”
The former president expressed regret over the slow pace of the reforms begun at the start of his administration. Some of the goals, such as consolidating the country’s two-currency system, eliminating the ration book and increasing foreign investment were never met.
He said that the small private business experiment known cuentapropismo, which began under his leadership, will continue to grow. He regretted, however, that the “lack of attention” to this economic sector which, in his view, has given rise to “more than a few manifestations of impropriety and tax evasion in a country where hardly any taxes are paid.”
The government has suspended issuing licenses to individuals hoping to open their own restaurants or rent out rooms in their homes to foreign tourists. Currently, half a million Cubans are self-employed.
Castro gave special emphasis to the racial composition of the new National Assembly. “Women and blacks in particular have received the best training in this country,” he said, adding that he had faced resistance on this issue. “Now we must place them in decision-making positions.” He gave several examples of how he himself had ordered that some television presenters be black.
“It looks like we already have a big black guy giving the weather report,” he said to laughter and applause from the delegates.
Many human rights activists have been critical that mulattos and mestizos hold few positions of power in Cuba despite the fact that they make up more than 40% of the population according to the 2012 census.
The former president dedicated much of his speech to foreign policy and reaffirmed that he regards the current American administration, notably Donald Trump, as his main enemy.
“Since the current president took office, there has been a calculated deterioration in relations between Cuba and the United States, and an aggressive and threatening tone prevails.” He described as “insulting” the presidential memorandum that Trump signed in Miami in the company of members anti-Castro exile community.
The first secretary of the PCC recalled that “one of the principle tactics of the enemies of the Revolution is to infiltrate, confuse, divide and alienate the youth from the revolutionary process.”
In contrast, Castro again affirmed his loyalty to Russia. “We will never take for granted nor ever forget the support of the peoples who made up the former Soviet Union, especially the Russian people,” he said.
“We will fight all attempts to manipulate the subject of human rights,” added the Cuban leader, who in one decade was responsible for the arrests of at least 52,820 people on political grounds according to figures published by various independent organizations.
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