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Cuba’s president changes only style, not substance

Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta -

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has engaged in a nonstop series of public appearances during his first 100 days in office, stopping everywhere across the island nation in an apparent bid to consolidate his leadership position. But the Castro dynasty is still calling practically all the shots.

Upon taking office on April 19, some had hoped he might move quickly to breathe new life into reforms aimed at modernising one of the world’s last Communist-run countries.

But the 58-year-old hand-picked successor of Raul Castro has demonstrated limited room for manoeuvre in what analysts have called a well orchestrated and only gradual transition from the octogenarian leaders of Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

Diaz-Canel has appeared daily in meetings broadcast on state television with authorities and in communities across Cuba, playing basketball with school students, hearing the concerns of patients at hospitals and inspecting factories to see the challenges they face.

His outgoing approach is starkly different from Castro’s behind-the-scenes style and many Cubans have said they are reminded of Castro’s older brother, Fidel, although the bearded revolutionary was far more charismatic and unrestrained.

“Every day he is really getting closer to the people, getting to know their problems first hand,” said Lazaro Linares, 45, who struggles to get by on the $20 per month he earns working for a state administered urban garden in Havana.

In terms of substance and problem solving, however, Diaz-Canel has made good so far on the promise made in his inaugural address to defer to his 87-year-old predecessor on key issues.

“Beyond frequent emphasis on the need to combat corruption... it is hard to identify as yet a policy agenda fully his own,” said Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University.

It is Castro, for example, who is spearheading the revamp of Cuba’s Soviet-era constitution to overhaul its courts and government, and reflect market reforms opening its economy. — Reuters

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