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Younger Cuban Exiles Little Impressed By Younger Cuban President

Ismael Francisco
AP via Miami Herald
Cuba's likely next president, Miguel Diaz-Canel (right) with current President Raul Castro in 2013.

Updated April 19, 2018

Cuba’s likely new president is a good generation younger than the Castro crowd he’s replacing. The younger generation of Cuban exiles here doesn’t expect that to mean change on the communist island. But many say it’s better than what Cuba has now.

Thursday morning, Cuba’s National Assembly formally declared the country’s top vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, to be the new president. (He was the only nominee in the Assembly's election.) Díaz-Canel is 57 – almost 30 years younger than current President Raúl Castro, who hand-picked Díaz-Canel to succeed him.

Will that relative youth usher in political and economic reform in communist Cuba? In South Florida, younger Cuban exiles – even those who favor more U.S. engagement with the island – aren’t holding their breath. But some do see a glimmer of at least potential in Díaz-Canel.

Sissi Rodriguez is a Cuban exile millennial and director of Roots of Hope, which promotes interaction between Cubans here and in Cuba.

“I don’t know that I would go as far as saying I’m hopeful in him right now," Rodriguez said.

"But my hope is that a new generation of leaders becomes more engaged and starts listening more to everyday people. Díaz-Canel, for example, has been more open about the importance of new technologies in Cubans' lives, maybe even the Internet. There's definitely something to at least watch there.”

But other younger exiles like John Suarez of the more conservative Center for a Free Cuba thinks Díaz-Canel will be too much under the old communist guard’s thumb - and they point out other younger, reform-minded leaders in Cuba have ended up banished by the Castro generation.

“I don’t have too much optimism for Mr. Díaz-Canel,"  Suarez said. "The bottom line is, the person who remains in control, as head of the communist party and in control of the military, is Gen. Raúl Castro.

"And remember," Suarez adds, "the younger generation of Cuban leaders has military hardliners too - starting with Raúl's son Alejandro."

Still, many younger Cubans here are encouraged by the fact that Díaz-Canel is a civilian.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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