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What Cuba's New President Hopes To Accomplish

Apr 19, 2018
Originally published on April 21, 2018 12:28 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Cuba has sworn in a new president, one whose last name is not Castro. Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez is an electrical engineer and party-faithful. He's 57 years old, and that means he had not even been born when Fidel Castro's revolution overthrew a U.S.-backed dictator and installed a socialist government. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Havana, Cuba.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez took over the presidency today with the proceedings broadcast live on state-run TV. Foreign journalists and independent press were barred from the convention center where the national assembly gathered for the handover of power.

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KAHN: Praising Cuba's nearly 60-year-old revolution, the silver-haired Miguel Diaz-Canel dressed in a black suit and red tie left no doubt about the political direction of the country without a Castro at the helm.

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PRESIDENT MIGUEL DIAZ-CANEL BERMUDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Raul Castro will remain the head of the Communist Party and will lead the decisions about the present and the future of the country," said Diaz-Canel. Castro looked on nodding approvingly.

When he stood to speak also in a dark suit and red tie, the 86-year-old Castro went on for more than an hour. He launched into a lengthy resume of Diaz-Canel's long participation in Cuba's Communist Party from his beginnings as a provincial leader to directing higher education in the country.

Many Cubans know little about their new president. Diaz-Canel has kept a low public profile but has made more frequent appearances in recent months on state-run TV. Many in Cuba view the changeover of power with skepticism and are reluctant to speak with a foreign journalist, like Madeliene Rodriguez, who runs a private home health care service.

MADELIENE RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "What can I say? We are all still here," she chuckles nervously. "And we are all hoping things will improve." Cuba's economy has been stagnant for years. Tourism, the once bright spot in Cuba, has plummeted since President Trump took office last year, reversing many of the trade and travel easements President Obama had put in place. Speaking to the assembly today, now former President Raul Castro and what may be one of his last public speeches railed against U.S. policies toward Cuba.

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RAUL CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Castro decried what he called President Trump's retreat and relations back to the days of aggression and outward hostility. And he made it clear he would remain in charge of island politics for the next three years, at which time he said he would pass on that post also to Diaz-Canel. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Havana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.