Diaz-Canel becomes Cuba's new president

A Cuban flag

A Cuban flag

Cuban Communist Party stalwart Miguel Diaz-Canel replaced Raul Castro as president on Thursday, a new chapter for the island after almost sixty years of rule by the Castro brothers but a change that is aimed at preserving Cuban socialism. The new Cuban leader also called for the unity of the Cuban people to continue to build a successful and sustainable socialism in the Caribbean island.

Diaz-Canel was elected in a landmark vote of the National Assembly which took place on Wednesday - he was the sole candidate for the presidency - with the result formally announced on Thursday. Xi sent a separated message to the general secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Raul Castro Ruz, in which he also committed to keeping close communication with him to take bilateral ties to a higher level.

He told members of the National Assembly Thursday that he expects Diaz-Canel to serve two five-year terms and can become head of the party once Castro leaves that position in 2021.

Diaz-Canel, who some say bears a passing resemblance to American actor Richard Gere, is a fan of The Beatles whose penchant for wearing jeans has set him apart in Havana's corridors of power. There, people described him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. This image of being friendly to ordinary people has been likened in Cuba to that of the Castro brothers during hard times.

Diaz-Canel's half-hour speech offered most Cubans by far their greatest exposure to the man long expected to assume the presidency. He has failed to fix the generally unproductive and highly subsidized state-run businesses that, along with a Soviet-model bureaucracy, employ three of every four Cubans.

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"I don't want to see a capitalist system, hopefully that doesn't come here, but we have to fix the economy", said Roberto Sanchez, a 41-year-old construction worker. State salaries average $30 a month, leaving workers struggling to feed their families, and often dependent on corruption or remittances from relatives overseas.

As in Cuba's legislative elections, all of the leaders selected Wednesday were picked by a government-appointed commission. Only one, 85-year-old Ramiro Valdez, was among the revolutionaries who fought with the Castros in the late 1950s in the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

Of the 604 lawmakers present, 603 voted in favour of making Diaz-Canel president and unanimously for the other mainly middle-aged members of the state council, marking a generational shift from the elderly leaders who fought to topple US -backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

He delivered a warm homage to 86-year-old Raul Castro, who took office a decade ago as his brother Fidel Castro's health deteriorated.

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