Diaz-Canel tapped to steer Cuba through post-Castro uncertainty

Diaz-Canel sole candidate to succeed Raul Castro

A stalwart of the ruling Communist Party, Diaz-Canel was sworn in to replace Raul Castro by the National Assembly in a new chapter for the Caribbean island but one that has been carefully managed and is aimed at preserving the political system.

For the first time in 60 years, someone other than Fidel or Raul Castro will govern Cuba.

The power dynamic between president and Party means that Mr Diaz-Canel is likely to continue in the same vein as Raúl Castro; a dramatic adjustment in Cuban policy is therefore unlikely.

He spent decades climbing the party ranks, becoming Mr Castro's right-hand man in 2013.

Cuba's recently elected National Assembly has started the process of selecting a new president.

Yet his room for manoeuvre will be limited as the Communist Party remains the driving political force and will be headed by Castro until 2021. Díaz-Canel was the only name on the ballot lawmakers cast to elect the next president.

James Williams, the president of Engage Cuba, a group that advocates for greater trade and engagement with the island, said that Diaz-Canel should be given a chance.

Though he was often portrayed as a moderate with a quiet disposition, a video of a private meeting with Communist Party members released previous year showed another side - a ruthless man with hardline views lashing out at Cuban dissidents and the US.

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"Diaz-Canel strikes me as looking a little bit like that American actor (Richard Gere) because of his height and his grey hair", chuckled Yani Pullido, 27, a waitress working in a cafe in Old Havana.

As in Cuba's legislative elections, all of the leaders selected Wednesday were selected by a government-appointed commission. Fidel, stricken by illness, passed the baton to Raul in 2006.

Diaz-Canel smiled and joined the applause of the president. Although Osvaldo Dorticos was president of Cuba during Fidel Castro's time as prime minister, he was considered a figurehead beside the man who led Cuba's revolution, forged its single-party socialist system and ruled by fiat. Until March, Diaz-Canel had said nothing to the Cuban people about the type of president he would be.

"He broke the psychological barrier with more market-oriented reforms", said LeoGrande, "but it is unfinished business".

Diaz-Canel, 57, said Castro would remain the leader of the revolution and would be involved in major decisions.

The change in Communist-run Cuba has sparked much debate on the island and beyond.

Today, AP employs the latest technology to collect and distribute content - we have daily uploads covering the latest and breaking news in the world of politics, sport and entertainment.

After Fidel Castro's death in 2016, Raul's departure from office draws the curtain on almost 60 years of Castro rule.

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