Cuba’s new leader Miguel Diaz-Canel began his term on Thursday with a vow to defend the Castro socialist revolutionary legacy while also outlining the need to modernize the island’s economy.
“The mandate given by the people to this house is to give continuity to the Cuban revolution in a crucial historic moment,” Diaz-Canel, 57, told the National Assembly in his first speech as president, Reuters reports.
The new leader, who was sworn in to replace Raul Castro, delivered a warm homage to his 86-year-old predecessor who took office a decade ago as his brother Fidel Castro’s health deteriorated. Fidel Castro died in 2016.
Diaz-Canel, praising the reforms Raul ushered in as president, said the former president will remain the leader of the revolution and that he will be involved in major decisions.
The new president praised Castro’s move to renew relations with the United States. He said there would be no compromise in Cuba’s foreign policy but in a repetition of a long-held stance by Havana, he said he would hold dialogue with anybody who treated Cuba as an equal.
The speech set a course for his first term, in which he will have to strike a balance between defending Cuba’s socialist system and reforming it enough to satisfy a young generation hungry for better economic conditions, Reuters noted.
Diaz-Canel, who rose through the ranks of the Cuban Communist Party over three decades, said the new period would be characterized by “modernization of the economic and social model.”
He ended his speech like Fidel Castro used to, punching the air and shouting the revolutionary slogans “motherland or death, socialism or death, we will win.”
Meanwhile, in a 90-minute-long parting speech, Raul Castro spoke highly of Diaz-Canel and gave his blessing to the younger man to take over from him as the head of the Communist Party in three years.
He also said the new president could serve two five-year terms, underscoring restrictions Castro imposed on himself after his brother’s decades in power.
In other remarks, Castro sharply criticized US foreign, trade and immigration policy under President Donald Trump.
“Since the current president arrived in office, there has been a deliberate reversal in the relations between Cuba and the United States, and an aggressive and threatening tone prevails,” he said.
In 2014, Castro and former US President Barack Obama reached a landmark agreement to renew diplomatic ties and improve relations between the Cold War foes, a detente that led to a rapid increase in US visits and investment on the island.
There has been a renewed chill under Trump, who put a stop to doing business with some Cuban state-run companies and tightened rules for US visitors.
In Washington, a White House official said the Trump administration had no expectations Cuban people would have any greater freedoms under the new “hand-picked” leader, and had no intention of softening its policy toward the island’s government.
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