Fri, Apr 13, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Castro will still play key role after handover

AFP, HAVANA

Cuban President Raul Castro, right, talks to First Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel during the 50th anniversary of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s death in Santa Clara, Cuba, on Oct. 8 last year.

Photo: AFP

Cuba is preparing for the end of an era next week when Raul Castro steps down as president, ending his family’s six-decade grip on power and paving the way for a younger leader.

However, analysts say his replacement, expected to be Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57, will not be quite be alone at the helm of the nation.

Castro steps down on Thursday next week, when the National Assembly is to pick the nation’s new leader, but even at the age of 86, he will still have a pivotal role as head of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba until its next congress in 2021.

It is a powerful perch from which he can keep a watchful eye on Cuba’s restive old guard who could try to put the brakes on his more ambitious reforms.

The incoming president “will have less power in his hands than Raul or Fidel Castro,” said Jorge Duany, head of the Institute of Cuban Research at the University of Florida.

“He will have to share it with other political figures and high-ranking military,” Duany said.

Cuba watcher Arturo Lopez Levy said the incoming president would “need a collegial style of management” and need to be able to strike a balance between various competing factions in the new government.

Key figures who have risen through the party, such as 60-year-old Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez or Marino Murillo, the 57-year-old who is a key architect of Cuba’s economic reforms, could play important roles in the incoming administration.

There is also a lot of speculation surrounding Raul’s son, Colonel Alejandro Castro, and his former son-in-law Luis Alberto Lopez-Calleias, who heads the powerful military-controlled Business Administration Group.

Cuban political scientist Esteban Morales said Diaz-Canel would benefit from Raul Castro’s continued presence at the head of the communist party.

“Raul has the experience, the leadership, and the recognition to advise the government and provide coherence,” Morales said.

Even if Cuba would be without a Castro as leader for the first time since Fidel Castro led the 1959 revolution, little is likely to change immediately with the accession of Diaz-Canel.

Though he faces high expectations of deepening Castro’s reforms along a set of guidelines endorsed by the party last year, analysts expect him to take a softly-softly approach.

“It won’t be done in two days,” said Morales, who said he does not see “Diaz-Canel immediately launching into a series of actions.”

Having worked his way through the ranks of the party, his key task will be to ensure that the revolution is “maintained,” Morales said.

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