Analysis: Castro successor lacks charisma but is experienced manager

Mon Feb 25, 2013 7:37pm EST
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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - When Cuban President Raul Castro named former engineering professor and long-time Communist Party insider Miguel Diaz-Canel as his first vice president and potential successor on Sunday, he chose managerial skills over flair.

Diaz-Canel, 52, is the youngest non-military man to come so close to the pinnacle of power in Cuba since the Castro brothers took power in 1959.

He was appointed first vice president on Sunday at a meeting of the National Assembly where Castro also announced he would step down in 2018 at the end of his second five-year term as president.

Diaz-Canel would step into the presidency if Raul Castro could not complete his term. He rose through the ruling Communist Party's ranks including key posts outside the capital and enjoys some name recognition at home, though is far less well known abroad.

While he has only two years of routine military service under his belt, Diaz-Canel's ascent through the provincial ranks has earned him strong ties with the military, connections that other up-and-coming figures who fell by the wayside in past reshuffles have lacked.

"This is a major change in Cuba, not just generational," said Arturo Lopez-Levy, an analyst at the University of Denver who used to work for the Cuban interior ministry on intelligence issues and U.S. relations. "The promotion of Diaz-Canel should be seen as part of an institutional change in the way the Cuban elite is promoted."

Before joining the government in Havana, Diaz-Canel held top Communist Party posts in two important provinces, Villa Clara and Holguin, centers of the booming tourism industry as well as new private-sector activity, both key elements of an economic reform process being pushed by Raul Castro.

That experience makes Diaz-Canel well-equipped to help Castro advance those reforms, designed to make the economy more efficient and bring in more foreign currency, without loosening the Communist Party's political control.   Continued...

Cuba's President Raul Castro and newly elected first vice president Miguel Diaz Canel, (R), attend the closing session of the National Assembly of the Peoples Power in Havana February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan