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Miguel Diaz-Canel: Castro's chosen successor is integral figure in Cuban party machine but can he win over man in street?


When the Cuban delegation arrived for the London Olympics last summer, no one paid very much attention to the mid-level government official with thick silver hair who was leading it. Miguel Diaz-Canel was not Raul Castro, after all, and most of the rest of the world had barely heard of him. So why get overly excited? Now we know why Diaz-Canel, 52, was chosen for the task and why just a few weeks earlier he accompanied Raul to the Rio plus 20 Summit on global warming in Brazil. He was being deliberately groomed as the man the Castro brothers had judged to be the best option to take over when finally they cede control to a new generation. 

The Castro brothers selecting him and his actually becoming president five years hence (or sooner if Raul’s health fails) are not quite the same thing. While Mr Diaz-Canel’s party credentials may be impeccable, to most outside observers he seems to be lacking in the charisma that might yet be needed to woo the support of ordinary Cubans. A lot could happen in five years that may yet disrupt his path to power. Clearly though he is now in pole position.

“He is not an upstart or improvised,” Mr Castro said of his chosen successor, meaning that the rise of Mr Diaz-Canel, pictured, has been gradual and deliberate. He started his climb taking top party positions at the provincial level before rising to the post of higher education minister. Trained as an electrical engineer he became known as a technocrat and a manager. Yet, some see more to him than that.  “He’s a much more flexible type than he seems, open-minded and above all intelligent,” one Cuban official reportedly said.

Even in recent weeks, President Castro has been discretely testing Mr Diaz-Canel again with a foreign mission. This time, he was dispatched to Caracas to address a rally in support of Hugo Chavez when the Venezuelan president was in Havana for treatment for cancer.  The London Olympics are one thing, but relations with Venezuela are slightly more important for Cuba, as its only regional ally and supplier of heavily discounted oil.