Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, the Man from Moscow at the Celac Summit

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, in a file photograph. (EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa/Pool)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 23 January 2023 — In recent years, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has experienced that diplomatic solitude that often surrounds the authoritarians. Except for a recent tour of Russia, Turkey, Algeria and China, in addition to the favors that the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has given him in public, the 62-year-old engineer has seen how his condition as president not chosen through votes at the polls, and the the repression that he unleashed against the protesters of July 11, 2021 has taken a political toll on him and left him excluded him from red carpets and international events.

His arrival this Monday in Argentina, to attend the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) seeks to bring him out of that loneliness and try to insert him into the Latin American scene. But the Díaz-Canel who arrives in Buenos Aires is a failed president in all respects: with a country experiencing the largest mass exodus in its history, inflation that has plunged millions of Cubans into poverty, and facing a political crisis it only knows how to react to through threats and the imprisonment of its opponents.

Unlike other guests, the Cuban leader has nothing to offer a regional organization that has been in the doldrums for years and in which the citizens of the continent less and less place their hopes. He arrives at the meeting, moreover, after strengthening his alliance with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and accepting the creation of an Economic Transformation Center that, from Moscow, will supervise the Cuban drift towards a “private company” model, marked by vices that have turned the Russia itself into a nation of commercial mafias, complicit oligarchs and businessmen that emerged from the bowels of the old KGB.

Díaz-Canel is the Kremlin’s man at this meeting and will have to be vigilant in case any mention is made at the meeting of the war in Ukraine, a conflict that is decisive for the current continental economic situation. Will the Russian invasion be called a “special military operation” as the official Cuban press does, or will there be talk of an invasion? The man whom Raúl Castro seated in the presidential chair in Havana could influence the event’s final documents to soften criticism of Russia and to obviate, Olympically, the conflict.

It will also correspond to Díaz-Canel to close ranks with Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and, presumably, with Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, others of the unpresentable autocrats summoned to the summit. But we will have to look closely at the Cuban’s meeting with the Chilean president, Gabriel Boric, who has been very critical of the violation of human rights in Nicaragua and Venezuela, although much more lukewarm when it comes to the island. The handshake with Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should also be closely watched, because the Brazilian leader does not arrive in the same position that he enjoyed in his previous terms, nor does his closeness to the Cuban regime mean the same as it did a decade ago.

Ruined economically and rejected by a large part of Cubans, Miguel Díaz-Canel knows that after the summit closes and the group photo of the leaders is released, he will have to get on the plane and return to the same country, bankrupt and without hopes, that he saw him go. His calculations, more than towards Buenos Aires, are now focused on Moscow, in which a dangerous and feared bear watches over his back. In exchange, he will continue to be the “comrade of the Kremlin” in Latin America, the man who is willing to cede part of Cuban sovereignty to a distant country rather than allow a democratic opening on the island.


Editor’s Note: This text was originally published in Deutsche Welle in Spanish.


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