14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, April 21, 2018 — Government opponents and human rights activists were not pleased with Miguel Díaz-Canel’s first speech as Cuba’s new president.
Iliana Hernández, director of the independent program Lente Cuban (Cuban Lens) questions whether the Cuban people will accept Díaz-Canel as leader given that he was hand-picked by his predecessor. “On top of that, he has no charisma,” she says.
Hernández believes she has some insight into the new president’s priorities based on a video that was leaked last year in which he can be heard attacking the independent media and defending censorship as a way to protect the Revolution. “He is going to increase repression but the opposition is stronger now,” she says.
In Santiago de Cuba, Carlos Amel Oliva is also skeptical that the new presidential administration can satisfy the Cuban people’s desire for change. The young activist at the Cuban Patriotic Union believes it is a contradiction “to try to maintain the legacy of the earlier generation” while at the same time “carrying out reforms.”
Oliva believes that access to information is a key item in the growing list of popular demands. “This Cuba is different from the one that existed ten years ago,” when Raúl Castro became president, he points out. “Society is demanding more substantive action,” not only to alleviate the economic situation but also “in the area of human rights.” He acknowledges that it is very difficult to predict the next steps the president might take because “in a totalitarian system everone engages in double talk… No one can be sure if what he said on Thursday in front of the National Assembly is really what he thinks.”
The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), Dagoberto Valdés, believes that Díaz-Canel’s first speech after being named president “was ideological in order to signal continuity. But reality is more obstinate and more forceful than ideology or any ruler’s intentions.”
For years Valdés and his team have been subjected to constant pressure, prohibited from leaving the country and forced to undergo a legal trial which ended with the confiscation of his home in Pinar del Río, where the group members used to meet. His think tank recently held a conference on agriculture, the press and the island’s future.
It is a future that the country’s new administration cannot build “with the same bricks that didn’t work in the past,” he believes. In other words, with the same methods, the same economic model, the same political model. “New bricks are needed for new construction,” says Valdés.
Though he applauds the generational change at the Council of State, the CEC director believes that “just recruiting younger people is not enough.” What is needed, he believes, is a change in mindset, in the methods and in the models.”
Independent journalist Henry Constantín believes that the commitment Díaz-Canel made to the so-called “historic generation” in his speach before the new Council of State will be “a major impediment” to his success.” For economic changes to have the desired effect,” he says, “changes must be made in the political arena, especially with regard to freedom.”
The reporter, whom the authorities have barred from leaving the island, believes the appointment of Salvador Valdés Mesa as first vice-president is not a good sign. “There are bad memories in Camagüey from his time as first secretary of the provincial Communist Party,” he recalls, pointing out that Valdés Mesa, who acquired a reputation as an inefficient bureaucrat, has now been placed in a position to “counter” any slip-ups by Diaz-Canel.
The opposition figure Martha Beatriz Roque, sentenced to twenty years in prison during the Black Spring of 2003, believes the historic generation has handed the SantaClara born engineer “a very big, hot potato because the country is in a very difficult situation.”
The economist is convinced that the new president “”will not make any changes. On the contrary, he will make politics tougher.”
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.