For the first time in Cuba, in almost 70 years, Castro is not the name of the Head of State and Government. The majority of Cubans who are alive today have always known their leader with the name Castro. However, in the aftermath of the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba held in Havana from last Friday to yesterday, Monday 9th of April 2021, Miguel Diaz-Canel has become the de facto leader of Cuba. Raul Castro has been preparing to step down as head of Cuba’s all-powerful communist party, to put an end to over six decades of his family’s leadership of the Latin American country. Having first stepped down as the country’s President in 2018 and handing over to Diaz-Canel, but keeping hold of the all-powerful Party First Secretary position, Raul Castro pointed the way he would go in the long run and it was clear who his anointed was. And he did not disappoint. At last, a new name has emerged in Cuba’s history, different from the Castro signature.
When 89-year-old Raúl Castro announced that he was resigning as Cuban Communist Party leader, ending his family’s over six decades in power, it was clear that the Castro dynasty was coming to an end. His promise to hand over leadership to a younger generation was welcomed by many of his compatriots, who are for the first time seeing and hearing of a different name at the top of their country’s ladder. And so it came to pass yesterday when Miguel Diaz-Canel was officially elected First Secretary of the Communist Party during the closing session of the 8th Congress, becoming the first person without the name Castro to run Cuba since the 1959 revolution. With his election, the 60-year-old now holds Cuba’s two most important positions, head of the party and president of the country. The electrical engineer-turned politician was himself only born after the 1959 revolution so he has followed the Castro domination of the country all his life.
He was first appointed Vice- President by Raul Castro in 2012, a year after Raul succeeded his elder brother Fidel Castro, as the party First Secretary in 2011. Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is a country comprising the island of Cuba, as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet. Fidel Castro led the revolution that toppled the Cuban government in 1959 and was the country’s leader until falling ill in 2006. Two years later in 2008, Fidel handed over the presidency to his brother, Raul. Fidel Castro died in Havana on 25th November 2016, aged 90. Growing up in the 60s, many young people in the third world, including Nigeria, were always full of admiration for the legendary Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who was seen as the only one bold enough among his contemporaries to challenge the might of the United States, and run a communist system in the west.
Those were also the years of the Black Power movement in the US and the black world, and Fidel Castro was seen as an inspiration to young nations just coming out of the yoke of colonialism. Many African countries like Guinea, Tanzania and others tried to embrace softer models of communism or socialism, with the backing of the then Soviet Union, the proponent of Communism. Cuba was home to many African sportsmen and women who went to have a feel of how that country always seemed to excel in international sport like amateur boxing, baseball and basketball, especially in the Olympics, because professional sport was not allowed. Cuba sent coaches to help train Nigerians in different sports in the 70s and 80s and many of our sportsmen and women cherish the experience which they term ‘unforgettable’. Fidel Castro’s popularity was cemented by the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, an abortive landing operation on the southwestern coast of Cuba in 1961.
The attack was by Cuban exiles who opposed Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution and they were overtly financed and directed by the CIA. The operation took place at the height of the Cold War, and its failure led to major shifts in international relations between Cuba, the United States, and the Soviet Union and made Castro a hero of his people. The 8th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party which ended yesterday coincided with the 60th anniversary of Cuba’s victory in the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Congresses are held every five years, lasting four days and major decisions are taken at that level of the only political party that exists in Cuba. The last two congresses – the 7th and 6th Congresses – were held in April 2016 and 2011 respectively, and Raul Castro presented the central reports. As Cuba’s leader, Raúl Castro maintained the communists’ one-party grip on power, but built an improvement in relations with the United States between 2014 and 2016 during the tenure of President Barack Obama.
The improved relations collapsed when Donald Trump took over as US President. Under Trump, the US tightened restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba and goods from the island nation. President Joe Biden has so far not fulfilled his promise to ease the restrictions on Cuba whose economy shrank 11% in 2020 and many Cubans have spent hours in food and medicine lines. The country is also facing its worst outbreak of COVID-19 which has infected more than 90,000 people and killed 500, further worsening the social and economic problems of the country whose 11 million population have never had it so bad. While the emergence of Miguel Diaz-Canel as the new Cuban leader is like a breath of fresh air, he has his work cut out for him in his tourism dependent island nation, and he would need to modernize the economy so that his people can feel the impact of a modern world which they mostly hear about from their relatives across the waters in Florida and other parts of the United States, but have never felt.
• Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’