Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(HAVANA) — Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez is the first person outside of the Castro family to rule over Cuba in almost 60 years.
Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel in 2006, stepped down as president Thursday and gave power to his successor, First Vice President Diaz-Canel.
The Cuban government voted Wednesday to approve Diaz-Canel’s nomination as the candidate to replace the 86-year-old president.
Diaz-Canel addressed the nation with a speech that was broadcast live on television, in which he promised to preserve Cuba’s communist system while gradually introducing reforms.
“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” he said.
Raul Castro will remain head of the ruling Communist Party, maintaining his status for now as the most powerful public figure in Cuba. There was speculation for years that Castro would pick one of his children as his successor. Instead he chose a man who wasn’t even born when his brother started a revolution and took control of Cuba in 1959.
Diaz-Canel has served as Cuba’s first vice president since 2013. He was born in the central province of Villa Clara in 1960. He climbed his way up the ranks of the ruling Communist Party and gained prominence as party leader in Villa Clara and Hologuin provinces, before becoming higher education minister.
Diaz-Canel also led the Cuban delegation to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Diaz-Canel has publicly defended bloggers and academics who were critical of the Cuban government, under a system that represses dissent and is intolerant of criticism.
Now, as Cuba’s newest president, the world will be watching his every move to see whether he strays from the path paved by the Castro brothers.
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