Miguel Diaz-Canel was born in 20 April 1960, little over a year after Fidel Castro was first sworn in as prime minister. Mr. Díaz-Canel grew up in the central province of Villa Clara, about three hours from Havana, the son of a schoolteacher and a factory worker. He studied electrical engineering at the Central University of Las Villas, where he was active in political life. He was viewed from an early age as a rising star within Cuba’s Communist Party. As a young man, he joined the Union of Young Communists, the party’s youth league, where he stood out among his peers. He later worked as a bodyguard to Raúl Castro. According to a friend who knew him at the time, the assignment allowed him to show loyalty to the cause, and drew Mr. Díaz-Canel close to both Raúl and Fidel Castro.
He studied electrical engineering and began his political career in his early 20s as a member of the Young Communist League in Santa Clara, a city which was the site of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution and which to this day is dominated by the Che Guevara Mausoleum.
While teaching engineering at the local university, he worked his way up the ranks of the Young Communist League, becoming its second secretary at the age of 33.
He also played a key role in the Communist Party in his native province of Villa Clara, which during his time at the helm of the provincial government was said to have enjoyed more freedoms than other parts of the country.
Rock concerts went ahead here that would have been banned elsewhere, locals say, and since 1985 the city has been the home of one of Cuba’s most famous LGBT cultural centres, El Mejunje.
Its owner said the club would not have survived had it not been for Mr Díaz-Canel’s backing. The club welcomed “anyone different” at a time when communist Cuba did not.
Despite his steady work at provincial level, it took Mr Díaz-Canel another 10 years, until 2003, to make it onto the Politburo, the Communist Party’s executive committee.
In 2009, he was elevated to the post of minister of higher education and in 2013 he finally made it to vice-president.
His steady rise and “ideological firmness” was praised by the man who has been his main backer, Raúl Castro.
At the time that he made him his number two, Mr Castro insisted that Mr Díaz-Canel was “no upstart”, a compliment in a party which has been dominated by those who fought alongside Fidel Castro in the revolution.
But even though Mr Díaz-Canel has now been groomed for the past five years to take over from President Raúl Castro, it is hard to know where he stands on key issues.
Most analysts agree that even if he wants to shake things up, Mr Díaz-Canel’s hands will be tied, especially as Raúl Castro is expected to continue to exert considerable influence on state policy even after stepping down as president.
Mr Castro is expected to retain a key position in the Communist Party and not relinquish control to his handpicked successor until he has made sure that the latter will continue to steer the course the Castro brothers set over the past decades.
Miguel Diaz-Canel, has served as first secretary of two of the Communist Party of Cuba’s provincial committees, first in Villa Clara and then in Holguin. He has also served as minister of higher education, vice president of the Council of Ministers and first vice president of the Council of State by the National Assembly.
On April 19, 2018, Diaz-Canel won Cuba’s presidential election and was sworn in as the country’s president. Mr. Díaz-Canel, who became Cuba’s new president on Thursday, the day before his 58th birthday, has spent his entire life in the service of a revolution he did not fight.
Born one year after Fidel Castro’s forces took control of the island, Mr. Díaz-Canel is the first person outside the Castro dynasty to lead Cuba in decades.
Now, as leader, Mr. Díaz-Canel is suddenly taking on a difficult balancing act. Most expect him to be a president of continuity, especially because he arrives in the shadow of Raúl Castro, who will remain the head of the armed forces and the Communist Party, arguably Cuba’s most powerful institutions.
But Mr. Díaz-Canel also has to figure out how to resuscitate the economy at a time when President Trump is stepping back from engaging with Cuba. On top of that, Mr. Díaz-Canel must find a way to manage the frustrations of a Cuban population impatient with the pace of change on the island — without the heft of his predecessor’s revolutionary credentials.
Such credentials have been the bedrock of political power in Cuba ever since Fidel Castro seized control of the nation in 1959. In the ensuing years, the Castros ruled over Cuba with ironclad control, bolstered by a cadre of loyalists, nearly all of whom had fought alongside them in the revolution.
In the end, the most effective opposition to the Castro brothers was time.
Fidel Castro handed power to Raúl in 2006, then died 10 years later at the age of 90. Raúl then ushered in some of the most substantial reforms in decades, and is now orchestrating yet another one — the passing of the torch to a new generation.
After opening up the economy to private investment and entrepreneurialism, expanding travel in and out of the country and re-establishing ties with the great enemy, the United States, Raúl Castro has selected Mr. Díaz-Canel to fill his shoes.
“I like sticking with the ideas of President Fidel Castro because he did a lot for the people of Cuba, but we need rejuvenation, above all in the economy,” said Melissa Mederos, a 21-year-old schoolteacher. “Díaz-Canel needs to work hard on the economy, because people need to live a little better.”
“We’re building a relationship between the government and the people here,” Díaz-Canel said after casting a ballot for members of the National Assembly. “The lives of those who will be elected have to be focused on relating to the people, listening to the people, investigating their problems and encouraging debate.”
Raul Castro embraced Diaz-Canel and raised the hand of the new leader in the air, amid cheers from assembly members. Diaz-Canel then addressed the nation with a speech that was broadcast live on television, in which he promised to preserve Cuba’s communist system while gradually introducing reforms.
“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” he said.
- Miguel Diaz-Canel Biography and Profile