Cuba’s new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, began his term with a promise to defend the socialist revolution led by the Castro brothers since 1959, giving a sober speech that also emphasized the need to modernize the island’s economy on Thursday.
Diaz-Canel, a member of the ruling Communist Party, was sworn in to replace Raul Castro by the National Assembly in a carefully managed new chapter for the Caribbean island, aimed at preserving the political system.
“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 assembly in his first speech as president.
He delivered a warm homage to 86-year-old Raul Castro, who took office a decade ago as his brother Fidel Castro’s health deteriorated. Fidel Castro died in 2016.
Castro will retain considerable clout as the head of the Communist Party until a congress in 2021. Diaz-Canel, praising the reforms he ushered in as president, said Castro would remain the leader of the revolution and would be involved in major decisions.
Stepping to the podium for a 90-minute-long parting speech, a relaxed-looking Castro gave the impression he would not quickly fade from sight. He sharply criticized U.S. 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,” Castro said.
Thursday’s session was held on the 57th anniversary of Cuba’s 1961 defeat of a CIA-backed Cuban exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs, a victory that Havana celebrates as a symbol of its resistance to “imperialist” pressure for change from Washington.
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 U.S. visitors. A spate of mystery illnesses among U.S. diplomats in Havana has also undermined trust.
Despite that, Diaz-Canel 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.
“I take that as a signal that the Cuban leadership still sees value in improving relations, even if they have to wait for the next U.S. president,” said William LeoGrande, co-author of a book on the secret U.S.-Cuba talks that led to detente.
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.