There is a new President of Cuba, Miguel Diaz Canel. He’s the first non-Castro leader since the revolution of 1959. Does that mean that Cuba will move in a new direction? It doesn’t appear so.
Raul Castro will remain as the one who is truly in control. He will continue to lead the military and the Communist Party, which controls the entire political process. Therefore, this wasn’t much of a transition of power.
Miguel Diaz Canel is the former Vice President and he has promised to continue the "revolution." Otherwise, not much is known about his policy ideals. In the past, he publicly advocated for freedom of the press. However, a video from a private Communist Party meeting was leaked in which he adamantly supported censorship.
Canel was elected into office on the symbolic date of April 19th, the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion. However, this wasn’t an act of true democracy. It was basically a rubber-stamp election (604-1) by the National Assembly that was essentially handpicked by the Communist Party. Assembly members were literally not allowed to campaign.
As a handpicked successor, Miguel Diaz Canel is entering into a situation somewhat similar to Nicholas Maduro in Venezuela. As a matter of fact, Miguel Diaz Canel welcomed Maduro during an official visit to Havana in one of his first acts as President.
This meeting was in sharp contrast to the ambiguous comments made from Donald Trump. He told reporters, "We love Cuba. We’re going to take care of Cuba. We’re going to take care of it."
Trump has reversed much of the diplomatic progress from the Obama administration. This was capped off last September with a supposed "sonic attack" suffered by 21 Americans who had been working at the U.S. embassy in Havana. They, along with three Canadian diplomats, reported hearing a high-pitched sound in their hotel rooms before becoming sick with a number of symptoms, including hearing loss, loss of memory, headaches, etc.
The US intelligence community believes that this was an attack. However, a recent study by the University of Michigan concluded that the high-pitched sound may have been an accidental result of two Americans’ high-powered listening devices being placed too closely together. In other words, there’s more evidence that there was no foul play, as opposed to an attack on US diplomats.
With that in mind, it’s important to let cooler heads prevail and not repeat the mistakes of the past. Alex von Tunzelmann’s incredible book, Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean, illustrated that the US had ample opportunity to establish better relations with Fidel Castro in the months after the revolution.
Fidel Castro was fully committed to being a revolutionary and much less concerned with how to run the country. His more moderate views differed from the hardline communist stances of his brother, Raul, and Che Guevara. In fact, Fidel met privately with CIA agents during his famous 1959 visit to New York City. One of them concluded, "Castro is not only not a Communist, but he is a strong anti-Communist fighter."
US/Cuba relations obviously deteriorated rapidly, thus entrenching its alliance with the Soviet Union and increasing the likelihood of warfare. This is a lesson for present times. Although the Cold War has been over, Trump, like many other politicians, seems to prefer the anti-diplomatic route.
On the other hand, roughly three out of four Americans favor ending the Cuban embargo. However, this idea historically hasn’t received much support from the Executive Branch, in part, because there is a large Cuban-American voting bloc in the swing-state of Florida who don’t want the embargo lifted.
Oddly enough, it seems that Trump once privately supported ending the embargo in the late 1990s. After all, Newsweek reported that a company controlled by him sent representatives to Cuba in 1998 in hopes of building a hotel in Havana. Keep in mind, this trip violated the embargo. However, Trump publicly supported the embargo in 1999 when launching his campaign in Miami for the Reform Party.
All in all, we don’t know where Miguel Diaz Canel’s political ideologies truly stand. At this point, it seems that he’s basically a figurehead while Raul Castro is behind the scenes. However, we also don’t know if that will change in the future. Therefore, the best policy would be to establish diplomatic relations in the immediate term to prevent a possible disaster in the future.
Brian Saady is a freelance writer and author of four books. That includes his three-book series, Rackets, which is primarily about the legalization of drugs and gambling, and the decriminalization of prostitution. The series also details many issues, such as corruption and foreign policy. Visit his website. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter @briansaady.