Cuba swears in Miguel Diaz-Canel to replace Castro as president

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Thursday congratulated the Republic of Cuba and its new President Miguel Díaz-Canel for the democratic and participatory appointment of their legislative and executive authorities.

It is the first time since the revolution in 1959 that a Castro is not at the helm of the government.

After the result was announced Thursday, Diaz-Canel and Castro mounted the dais in front of the National Assembly and embraced in a gesture both real and deeply symbolic.

Mr Diaz-Canel added there would not be a compromise in Cuba's foreign policy, which has seen tensions with the United States in particular escalate over many years, and would hold dialogue with anyone who treated the island as an equal.

Castro was originally set to retire February 24 this year, but the country was still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, so his succession was postponed. He had previously served as first vice president.

The options are limited, as Diaz-Canel is the only candidate for the presidency.

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In turn, Raul Castro said he expected Diaz-Canel to take over as Communist Party head in 2021.

Miguel Diaz-Canel was officially named as the new leader of Cuba on Thursday, one day after a secret vote in the country's National Assembly.

A stalwart of the ruling Communist Party, Diaz-Canel was sworn in to replace Raul Castro by the National Assembly in a new chapter for the Caribbean island but one that has been carefully managed and is aimed at preserving the political system. "Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism".

Diaz-Canel gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. 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. Today, more than two-thirds of Cubans work in the inefficient state sector, earning on average of US$30 a month.

The Candidacy Commission also nominated another six vice-presidents of the Council of State, Cuba's highest government body.

The new Cuban president said that in view of the "growing threats to global peace and security", Cuban politics will "remain unchanged without making concessions to national sovereignty", which is why he said the Cuban government "will not accept to negotiate its principles, nor any conditioning".