Who is Miguel Díaz-Canel?
Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, who became Cuba’s new president Thursday, has spent his entire life in the service of a revolution in which he did not fight.
Born one year after Fidel Castro’s forces took control of the island, Díaz-Canel is the first person outside the Castro dynasty to lead Cuba in decades.
Díaz-Canel’s slow and steady climb up the ranks of the bureaucracy has come through unflagging loyalty to the socialist cause — he “is not an upstart nor improvised,” Raúl Castro has said — but he largely stayed behind the scenes until recent years.
Despite efforts to raise his profile, Díaz-Canel remains a somewhat unknown figure both domestically and abroad. Ever since he was named first vice president in 2013, Cuba watchers have scrambled to find out more about the enigmatic heir apparent, combing through his track record as party leader in the provinces of Villa Clara and Holguín, and later as minister of higher education, for clues on how he will lead.
Díaz-Canel grew up in the central province of Villa Clara, the son of a schoolteacher and a factory worker. He studied electrical engineering at the Central University of Las Villas, where he was active in political life.
From an early age he was viewed as a rising star within Cuba’s Communist Party.
As a young man, he joined the Union of Young Communists, the party’s youth league, where he stood out among his peers. He later worked as a bodyguard to Raúl Castro. According to a friend who knew him at the time, the assignment allowed him to show loyalty to the cause and drew Díaz-Canel close to both Raúl and Fidel Castro.
He served three years in the army, another node of power in the country, after which he resumed his slow climb up the party ladder.
Díaz-Canel could be accessible, friendly and modern — mingling with locals, playing basketball with kids and listening to rock music. But he could also be a staunch advocate of communism and the revolution, willing to silence critics.
“He was very active, very militant and very unconditional in his loyalty to the regime,” said Guillermo Fariñas, a well-known dissident and Cuban psychologist who grew up with Díaz-Canel in Villa Clara.