On April 19, 2018, Miguel Diaz-Canel was selected President of Cuba by the National Assembly of People’s Power, which held its most recent election of representatives on March 11. According to Granma, Cuba’s national news source, over 85% of eligible voters cast ballots in the election, with 94% of them being valid.
Telesur, a media outlet funded by Cuba and several other Central American nations, hailed the Cuban election process as “deeply ethical, civic and educational” as well as noting that the country only has one political party, which is “legally forbidden from fielding candidates.”
However, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Cuba’s only party –the Communist Party– controls which candidates can run for the National Assembly. Candidates must be nominated by a local commission, representing several groups. No less than half of nominees must be put forward by nominating assemblies, which are made up of community members –farmers, students, and workers, among others– as well as members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, as stated in a report by Amnesty International, are comprised entirely of members of the Communist Party.
Once candidates are proposed, the candidate lists are then refined by the National Candidature Commission according to “merit, patriotism, ethical values and revolutionary history.”
The Cuban government has a hand in the entirety of its electoral process and uses state-sponsored media to feign democracy. As a result, it is no surprise that the Castro legacy lasted as long as it has.
Raul Castro announced at the beginning of his second term in 2013 that it would be his last. Subsequent speculation then suggested that his Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel will be his successor. Diaz-Canel was subsequently chosen to hold the next five year presidential term when the National Assembly convened on April 19. This marks the first time since 1959 that Cuba has been led by a non-Castro.
Competing theories exist around what the future holds for Cuba, as it either enters a new era or stays the course of its dictatorship.
A report by CTV news cites Diaz-Canal promised to lead a more accountable government. He said to Cuban reporters, “There has to be focus on ties to, links with, the people, to listen to the people, deeply investigate the problems that exist and inspire debates about those problems.”
Conversely, President of the Inter-American Dialogue, Michael Shifter is skeptical of any radical reform. As he said in an interview with CGTN, “Raul Castro will still retain a lot of power as the head of the communist party. How much he gives up, actually, we’ll have to see… I don’t think we should expect any dramatic changes, but there may be change on the margins”. He continues to explain the state of limbo imposed by Castro’s resignation, “The communist party is the only party, so it is the chief mechanism for making policy decisions, and so [Castro] will not give up his authority and his power completely , but Diaz-Canel… will be able to take a new direction”. Shifter elaborated, ” Raul Castro has that decision to make – how much power does he want to give up to Diaz-Canel or how much does he want to retain? There is going to be a testing period for Diaz-Canel to see to what extent, really, he is effective, he is committed to the revolution and policies continue to move forward.”
Shifter’s statements seem to be supported by Diaz-Canel’s comments on the day of his election, “To those who through ignorance or bad faith doubt our commitment, we must tell them that the Revolution continues and will continue” as it seems he plans to uphold the visions of his predecessors.
Does Diaz-Canel’s incumbency represent a new Cuba’s politics or just a new face of its same revolution?
Cuba could be waiting until 2023, the expected end of Diaz-Canel’s first term, to witness fully how the power transition will play out on a national and global scale.