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Miguel Diaz-Canel’s rise to Cuba’s presidency signifies a historic changing of the guard, as someone born after the 1959 revolution takes over. How he will deal with the twin challenges of continued US pressure and of rising inequality in Cuba is the big question

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GREG WILPERT: Cuba’s National Assembly chose Miguel Diaz-Canel as the country’s new president on Thursday. Diaz-Canel takes over the presidency from Raul Castro, who has been leading Cuba for the past 12 years, ever since his legendary brother Fidel stepped down in 2006. Political power in Cuba is now passing to a new generation of Cubans who were born after the 1959 revolution. Miguel Diaz-Canel is relatively unknown, but has been vice president of Cuba for the past five years. Back in the 1990s when he was the first secretary of the Communist Party in Villa Clara province, he was known as being approachable , and promoted LGBT rights before it became official policy.

RAMON SILVEIRO: He was a true visionary because he supported “El Mejunje,” [a gay and LGBT center in Santa Clara]. It is almost an obligation to support such rights, but he supported it back then. He had a lot of innovative ideas, like giving a space to an LGBT community that was rather marginalized. It was the first area on which such an approach was taken [by the authorities] instead of segregating such community, he integrated it to our social and cultural life.

RAFAEL DAUSA: The new president of the Council the State and Ministers of Cuba, it’s a person that has a very long territory in the Cuban revolution. He was a leader of the Young Communist League. He was a leader in the student organizations. After that he was a teacher, a professor in the University of Las Villas, and also was a leader in the party in different provinces of Cuba, in Villa Clara and in Holguin. In both provinces he developed very outstanding work. And after that he was a minister of higher education in Cuba, and in recent years he was nominated as first vice president of the government of Cuba.

GREG WILPERT: But Cuba was going through a difficult time at the moment. The country that ever since the revolution has been the hemisphere’s most equal country is now going through a period of rising inequality, mainly because of Raul Castro’s economic liberalization reforms.

ELIZABETH DORE: The biggest challenge that Diaz-Canel is going to be dealing with is the Cuban economy. The Cuban economy is in the doldrums. It has suffered many shocks over, some very huge, major shocks and minor shocks over the last 25 years.

GREG WILPERT: Also, President Trump’s policy of reversing President Obama’s economic opening towards Cuba has significantly reduced U.S. tourism to the island, which is a very important source of income for Cuba.

RAFAEL DAUSA: I think the biggest challenge of the Cubans is to face a very cruel and crazy policy of the United States. I think we need to to develop our country, develop our economy. But in the framework of a criminal blockade that have been imposed against Cuba since almost 60 years. It’s very difficult to, to, to advance, and I think to conduct the Cuban revolution and the Cuban economy in that in that environment. It will be one of the challenges. The biggest challenge that, that Miguel Diaz-Canel will have. But I’m sure, I’m sure if in 60 years the different government of United States have not been able to defeat the Cuban revolution, I am sure that with the new president the situation will continue, because we are not going to, we’re not going to surrender our flags.

GREG WILPERT: It is unclear which way Diaz-Canel will take Cuba in the post-Castro era, but until now he has shown himself to be a loyal follower of Raul Castro. However, followers of Fidel Castro’s more egalitarian approach remain in office, and could still play a role, according to Professor Elizabeth Dore.

ELIZABETH DORE: I think the big issue in Cuba right now has been, is, the struggle within the Communist Party. That is a struggle that, to sort of put it in simple terms, or slogans, between Fidelistas who want to hold on to as much egalitarianism as possible, and Raulistas who, actually Raul Castro has denounced egalitarianism as a romantic idea but unworkable for the future of Cuba. And Raul Castro has introduced some significant economic changes in the direction of the market, in the direction of allowing small and medium-sized entrepreneurs to function.

GREG WILPERT: No matter which faction wins out, it is clear that the Cuban government remains committed to maintaining some form of independent socialism in Cuba.

RAFAEL DAUSA: I believe that that Miguel Diaz-Canel, the new president of the Council of the State, will continue to the lines, along the lines of Fidel, along the lines of Raul. Because I think that we are just arriving at the very beginning of a process in which the older generations that made revolution passed the flag to the new generations. But it doesn’t mean that we are going to abandon the, the line of independence, of serenity.

GREG WILPERT: As long as Cuba remains on this course, though, it will continue to confront both the dominance of the United States and the Western Hemisphere, and the almost impossible challenge of maintaining a different economic system in a global neoliberal capitalist context. Greg Wilpert for the Real News Network.

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Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.