Cuba’s First VP Nominated as Only Candidate for President

The Cuban government says First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is the only candidate nominated for president, a move that guarantees he will be the communist country’s first president outside the Castro family for the first time in nearly 60 years.

The nomination must be approved by the Cuban National Assembly, which has historically approved nominations.

In an unusual two-day procedure, the legislature will choose a new president on Wednesday and announce the replacement for Raul Castro on Thursday. The two-day process is a departure from the past, when the legislature has generally chosen the president and made the announcement the same day. The votes are almost always done in secrecy, in keeping with the will of the country’s top leadership.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the transition is “of great concern” to the Trump administration because it is not democratic.

“We would like citizens to be able to have a say in their political outcomes and this certainly does not seem like regular folks will have a say. They basically don’t have a real and meaningful choice because it’s not a democratic process.”

Nauert said the administration would like to see “a more free and democratic Cuba” but is “not overly optimistic.”

The new president will succeed 86-year-old Raul Castro, who is resigning after two five-year terms. His late brother Fidel served as prime minister and president after the armed Cuban Revolution in 1959 until he became ill in 2006.

Diaz-Canel appears to be socially liberal and is considered an acceptable successor to the retiring elderly leaders who fought in the revolution.

Congress will select leaders of the legislature before choosing the president and other members of the Council of State, Cuba’s top government body.

The process will usher in a new group of younger leaders who face pressure to bring greater prosperity to the country and revitalize its economy, which is smaller than it was in 1985 when it was supported by the former Soviet Union.

While the assembly promotes younger leaders, Castro and other older revolutionaries are expected to retain their power due to their hold on the Communist Party. Castro will remain party leader.

“We will see how things turn out within the medium term, but I do not see a big groundswell of support within the Cuban government for expanding human rights, for instance,” said Andrew Otazo, executive director of the Cuba Study Group.

VOA’s Nike Ching contributed to this report from the State Department.