New Cuban President Transforms Style of Government

By Patricia Grogg on May 23, 2018

Photo, Jorge Luis Baños

During his first month as Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, well on his way to gaining and maintaining the backing of citizens, shows signs of realizing that in order to govern he has to go out on the street, listen to the people, and take advantage of, rather than evade, the media.

With full press coverage, he was seen meeting with the Council of Ministers and going through a review of food programs, of renewable energy, of approving plans for preparing to celebrate in 2019 the half-millennium anniversary of Havana’s founding. And there was the press following him May 17 and 18 on a tour through districts of the capital.

“People comment that that’s the way it should be done, talking with people on foot, those who work a lot and don’t earn much. We hope he continues these visits, but there shouldn’t be any warning. That way he won’t be misled,” María Caridad told IPS. She’s an employee of a store in Old Havana and asked that her last name not be used.

There are many on social networks who remember the times when Díaz-Canel, now 58 years old, was the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party in Villa Clara, a city 168 miles from Havana.. “When people least expected it, he would appear on a bicycle. That was his way of doing things,” commented Kamilio, participant in a discussion on local digital media.

At the same time, another user, Arturo@1975, thought it’s “very important that top leaders deal with problems on a first-hand basis, so they can see with their own eyes what we are doing. They can then go on to readjust their shots so things get better.” For his part, Carlos Crespo concluded with, “That’s what a good president does.”

Both Díaz –Canel’s working agenda and people’s reactions make it clear that the main challenge the new government faces is the one of advancing with transformations directed at taking the country out of its chronic economic depression.

In comments to IPS just prior to the presidential change on April 19, analyst Carlos Alzugaray warned that, “There are plenty of social pressures resulting from the delay in coming up with the prosperous and sustainable socialism that was promised.” And Cuba “has yet to make good on the bulk of objectives laid out in the Guidelines.” (1)

In his opinion, the economy continues to be the principal challenge. What that means, he concluded, is “that expectations as to greater prosperity must be fulfilled, along with the promises set forth in the “Guidelines.” (That’s the official designation of reforms begun in 2011.)

The airliner crash occurring on May 18 in Havana’s Jose Marti international airport broke into the presidential agenda of that day. It was all about the “Disasters Exercise, Meteor 2018,” a general run-through of plans in force throughout Cuba ahead of the hurricane and tropical-storm season that begins June 1.

In the wake of the accident, Díaz-Canel was among the first group of officials arriving at the scene of the crash of the Boeing 737 rented to the Mexican company Global Air. There were 107 passengers and six crew members on board. The disaster, whose causes are being investigated, left 111 deaths (as of now) and two survivors in critical condition.

Later the president was seen at the Institute of Legal Medicine where work was being carried out on identifying the victims. He was at the Tulipán Hotel comforting families, most of them having arrived from Holguin province, 456 miles east of Havana. That’s where the disastrous flight was heading when it took off.

On Sunday the 20th, the head of state finished his week, taking part in the last session of Meteor 18.  There was a simulation that day, an annual one, aimed at preparing bodies of leadership and command at every level, and also the population, to be able to deal with earthquakes, major hurricanes, severe droughts, and other disasters.

“This particular exercise has been tested through sad experience. We have to carry it out as if there really were a catastrophe,” Díaz-Canel declared. He fired up the capacity of people for “sharing the pain, drawing strength from adversity, and continually moving ahead,” according to reports from local media officials.

Díaz-Canel is the first leader who wasn’t part of the so-called historical generation of the Revolution, headed by the brothers Raul and Fidel Castro, each of whom occupied the office of president of the Councils of State and of Ministers. That’s why right now there’s internal and International focus on the future of this Caribbean island country.

Alzugaray defines the new Cuban top leader as a politician of great experience. And what characterizes him beyond that, he says, is his discretion, caution, modesty, and faithfulness to the historic leadership, “above all to Fidel (1936-2016) and then to Raul Castro.”

In a brief entry he shared on Facebook, the Cuban researcher included among the political attributes of the current leader “his organizing abilities and his capacity to listen before making decisions.” There is also “his modern outlook.” Alzugaray pointed out that: “He is one of the few Cuban leaders who can handle the basic concepts of the technological revolution and of the digitalized and information-based Cuban society. And he uses a tablet as a tool in his work.”

In the first month of President Díaz-Canel’s leadership there was also an important diplomatic advance.  Cuba’s first meeting with the Council of the European Union was celebrated May 15 in Brussels. That body has the task of implementing the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement signed by the Caribbean nation and the European bloc in December 2016.

The European Union is Cuba’s biggest investor and also its prime commercial partner. Looking ahead, leaders expect that the agreement will contribute to increased exchanges of all kind. Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, indicated that “it will also allow us to better support the process of economic and social reform in Cuba and contribute to its sustainable development.

Mogherini and Cuban Chancellor Bruno Rodriguez signed an agreement on a new program for cooperation in renewable energy. The object is to help Cuba reach its goal of obtaining 24 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable energy sources. Another project is being prepared for cooperation on food security and sustainable agriculture.

Among other points of agreement is one for institutionalizing dialogue on human tights “as a key pillar of the bilateral relation.” It will be based on informal consultations in this area that were initiated in 2015.

On May 16 in Geneva, Chancellor Rodriguez defended Cuba’s report to the Universal Periodic Review (Third Cycle) of the Council of Human Rights.

Source: Inter Press Service, translation, W. T. Whitney Jr.