Change at the top in Cuba, though the old guys linger

Miguel Diaz Canel sits between Ramiro Valdes (R) and outgoing National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcon (AP)

Miguel Diaz Canel sits between Ramiro Valdes (R) and outgoing National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcon (AP)

On Sunday, Raúl Castro announced that he would serve as Cuba’s president for one more five year term, as had been widely predicted (including here). And almost as anticipated, Ramón Machado Ventura, his First Vice President, was kicked to the curb in favor of a fresh face, Miguel Díaz Canel.

The naming of Díaz Canel to be the country’s number two caught most observers by surprise. He was widely rumored to be under consideration for the post of President of the National Assembly, roughly equivalent to the U.S.’s Speaker of the House, and few had imagined him in the Biden role. (The presidency of the National Assembly went to Esteban Lazo, a longtime loyalist, the first Afro-Cuban to reach such a high post, and the assembly’s first new president in 20 years.)

If Díaz Canel actually makes it to the presidency, he’ll be the first non-Castro in the top post in Cuba since, technically, 1976, when Osvaldo Dorticós was pushed out of the presidency — a post that been mostly ceremonial until that point. Fidel Castro, then the prime minister and the real head of government, assumed the presidency and imbued it with its current significance.

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