Cuba goes for its new president

The National Assembly of Cuba re-elected Raul Castro as president (head of the State Council and the government). Miguel Diaz-Canel was elected first vice-president of the State Council, which means that in five years he could be Raul's successor. The President promised Cubans revenue growth, but warned that the new society would no longer be the society "of equality."

The current composition of the Council of State of Cuba elected on February 24th by direct and secret ballot at the first session of the National Assembly of People's Power of the eighth convocation is much younger than it used to be. This fits the policy of renewal of the leadership staff undertaken by Raul Castro. Following the example of China, he proposed to limit government service to ten years. The average age of the new State Council is 57, and half of the Council is formed of new people. Women representation was increased (42 percent) as was that of the blacks and mixed race (38 percent). It is noteworthy that for the first time since 2010 86-year-old Fidel Castro appeared in the Parliament. He voluntarily resigned from his position in 2006 because of health problems, but is now in good health. Fidel still heads the CPC, and was again re-elected as a deputy of the Assembly

The greatest interest was drawn by the election of the country's number 2, 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, who used to be a provincial party leader. He replaced First Vice President of the Council of State Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a representative of the old guard, a former guerrilla who fought with Fidel in the Sierra Maestra, and for decades led the operations of the Communist Party.

"I must clarify that this will be my last term," said 81-year-old Raul Castro after the new government was formed. He immediately added that Diaz-Canel will be the second person on his team. The president said that the decision was of particular historical significance because it was a defining step in shaping the future direction of the country by a gradual and consistent renewal of the staff in key positions.

The new Vice President is an electrical engineer by trade who served in the Army and then taught at the University of Las Villas, in his home province of Villa Clara. He started party work early and reached the position of First Secretary of the Party in Villa Clara. He is described as a tolerant and democratic politician who in difficult 1990s commuted to work by bike, like many of his colleagues. A group of journalists who visited the city of Santa Clara saw him in line for pizza, newspaper reported. However, this behavior is typical of many members of the Cuban elite. In 2003, Diaz-Canel joined the Politburo of the CPC, six years later became the minister of higher education, and less than a year ago he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers.

Parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon who headed the Assembly for 20 years was also replaced. He fell out of favor after the arrest of his right hand, Miguel Alvarez, who allegedly collaborated with the U.S. secret services. The Parliament will now be headed by the chief negotiator with the U.S. Secretary of the CPC Central Committee for Ideology, 69-year-old Esteban Lazo. Previously, he led the party organizations in Matanzas, Santiago de Cuba and Havana. He is a representative of the second generation of Cuban revolutionaries and has a reputation of an energetic and demanding leader.

Without a doubt, generational change that is taking place in Cuba will be reflected in the work of all government institutions, including the government, Parliament, and the CPC Central Committee. Raul Castro said he could not allow staff vacuum faced by Cuba after Fidel's illness and retirement. It turned out that there was no one to take the top positions. Raul said that the renewal of staff should be completed in the next five years, and the proposed changes to the Constitution, in particular, would reduce time in office to two five-year terms and introduce age limits for persons holding high-ranking positions.

Raul Castro said that during his second term he would continue the gradual reforms and would not resort to shock therapy. Raul said that he was elected president not to restore capitalism in Cuba, and not to betray the ideals of the Revolution but to defend, maintain and improve socialism, not to destroy it.

His government introduced a market-based economy and allowed small private business, which resulted in about 400,000 Cubans getting a license and opening a business. Among his great achievements is a new immigration law, according to which the Cubans finally got a chance to travel abroad freely. In 2008, they were allowed to buy cell phones and computers, as well as to stay in hotels that have been designed for foreign tourists. One of the most radical reforms was liberalization of the housing policy that earlier banned sale of housing.

The country's economic growth in 2012 amounted to 3.1 percent. This year the goal is to achieve GDP growth of 3.7 percent. The main difficulty in the economy is shortage of food, 80 percent of which is imported by Cuba. This year a third of all foreign exchange earnings were spent on food imports. Rationing system is still in place, and many earn only $20 a month. Raul promised earnings growth, but warned that the new society would no longer be the society of "universal equality," but "more fair." Everyone is concerned with stratification and social tensions, but the example of China shows that this problem can be overcome; the main thing is to prevent reckless liberalization of the economy.

Lyuba Lulko


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov