Castro loyalist prepares to make history in Cuba

New Parliament is set to vote for new leadership April 19

By Hatzel Vela - Cuba Correspondent, Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

HAVANA - Miguel Diaz-Canel may prefer the Cuban guayavera shirt over the Cuban military fatigues, but if he becomes Cuba's president later this month, Cuban-Americans watching from Miami believe the hand-picked apparatchik will protect Fidel Castro's legacy, while remaining obedient to Raul Castro, who will be the first secretary of Cuba's Communist party until 2021.

Although it will be the first time Cuba's Politburo won't have a Castro leading both the presidency and the Communist Party, the new strategy will continue to protect Raul Castro's aim to "defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism."

Cuba's new parliament is set to vote for the island's new leadership April 19, a day before Diaz-Canel turns 58. The son of a former plant worker in Santa Clara and trained electronic engineer will be busy overseeing the adjustments to Raul Castro's economic reforms and will be working on the possibility of a future transition out of the current dual currency system.

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The disciplined Marxist and former university professor's road to power was solidified when he became Castro's Sierra Maestra loyalist Jose Ramon Machado Ventura's protege. He served in the Revolutionary Armed Forces' anti-aircraft missile unit, was party secretary in Villa Clara and Holguin, and was later the minister of higher education. 

When Diaz-Canel succeeded Machado Ventura as first vice president among five other vice presidents, he became the first Cuban born after Fidel Castro established his Communist dictatorship to reach that level of power.    

In 2013, Patrick Ventrell, the former spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said the promotion of Diaz-Canel did not signal a "fundamental change for Cuba," and the U.S. wanted to see Cubans being able to "pick their own leaders in an open democratic process." Five years later, the U.S. State Department's position remains the same.

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2016 Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Last year, evidence surfaced that Diaz-Canel had little desire to make an effort to normalize relations with the U.S. He was filmed telling leaders of the Communist Party that President Donald Trump's administration was "offensive," and Cuba should not have to make any concessions, which signaled to a refusal to extradite U.S. fugitives or to free political prisoners.

He also accused Yoani Sanchez, a prominent digital journalist, and the dissenting relatives of political prisoners of working as well-funded "puppets" of the U.S. In the video, first released by dissident Antonio Rodiles, he displayed rigidity and a lack of interest in addressing the area of human right, and he seemed to have a plan to target government critics. 

Miguel Diaz-Canel during 2016 luncheon in Havana

2016 File Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"The day we are able to cut the money, the counterrevolution is over," Diaz-Canel said in a 2017 video published by CiberCuba on YouTube.

Diaz-Canel will take office as the island enjoys strong relationships with China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela, and just after John Bolton's appointment as national security adviser and Mike Pompeo's appointment to head the U.S. State Department.  

Miguel Diaz-Canel Nancy Pelosi

2016 File Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations, considered Cuba to be part of the world's "axis of evil," a term used to describe terrorism-sponsoring states. Pompeo, the former director of the CIA, fervently opposed former President Barack Obama's policy and criticized his 2016 visit to Havana.

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2016 File Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It's unclear if this will translate into a lack of cooperation on drug interdiction, immigration and anti-terrorism efforts. The U.S.-Cuba relationship is so icy that the White House has already announced Trump has no intentions of meeting with Castro during the Summit of the Americas April 13-14 in Peru. 

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