By Blog Writer Charlotte Davies
Much excitement surrounds the appointment of Díaz-Canel as the first Cuban head of state for decades that has not carried the Castro name. Since he was sworn into office on 19th April, many have been left questioning what the future will hold for the Caribbean island. While some believe that he will diminish Cuba’s economic and social difficulties, others are dubious about the control Raúl Castro will continue to exert from the side-lines and whether Díaz-Canel will actually improve the country’s situation.
In 1959, Fidel Castro established the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere. He continued to rule over this Caribbean island for the consequent decades, until handing over power to his brother Raúl in 2008. Despite achieving notable social successes in increasing literacy levels, reducing racism and improving health care, Castro was widely criticised for inhibiting economic and political freedoms.
Therefore, there is much discussion surrounding the new administration, particularly with heightened excitement following the approval of an updated constitution for the nation. Díaz-Canel called for an updated constitution and reform that would reflect the new realities the island faces. He has said that the new constitution would reflect "the now and the future of the nation".
This draft updated Cuban constitution was given the go ahead by the island's National Assembly on 22nd July. It will replace the 1976 national charter that incorporated one-party communism on the island. On the cards are social, political and economic reforms. Social reform would include recognising same-sex marriage, while political reform would see the introduction of a prime ministerial role and a role for governors. Economic reform would see an increased role, with formal juridical recognition, for the market and private property.
Despite these possibilities, there remains doubt over the independence of Díaz-Canel. The Head of State retains a close relationship with Raúl Castro and it is possible that the latter is still calling the shots. When Díaz-Canel announced his new cabinet, he retained two thirds of the ministers who served under Castro. Not surprisingly, since Díaz-Canel has been Raúl Castro's right-hand man since his appointment to vice-president of Cuba’s council of state in 2013, Díaz-Canel has effectively been groomed for the presidency and handover of power. Therefore, many are left dubious as to how different this new administration will be.
What is perhaps needed for Cuba is a fresh set of eyes to deal with the economic and social issues facing the country. Cuba’s inefficient state-run economy never fully recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union and now faces declining aid from Venezuela as well as lower Cuban exports. Despite free social services and some subsidised food and housing, Cubans are also complaining that they cannot live off the average monthly state wage. So far, the one economic topic Díaz-Canel has emphasised is corruption, but for many this is a symptom rather than a cause of Cuba’s problems. It is necessary to get to the heart of the real problems.
If Díaz-Canel is to be effective, he will need to continue to push for further economic and social reforms. Díaz-Canel would need to disassemble the repressive state machinery that continues to overshadow any other advances in Cuba’s fulfilment of human rights.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Pascal Fletcher, ‘Cuba’s new constitution: what’s in and what’s out’, BBC World News (26 July 2018)
- History.com (2009), ‘Fidel Castro’
- Sarah Marsh, Nelson Acosta, ‘Cuba’s president changes style not substance in first 100 days’, Reuters (27 July 2018)
- Erika Guevara Rosas, ‘Cuba: 100 days in, new administration has yet to dismantle repressive state machinery’, Amnesty International (28 July 2018)
- BBC News, ‘Miguel Díaz-Canel: The man succeeding the Castro’s’, BBC News (19 April 2018)
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons