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Xi Jinping Congratulates Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel

20 April 2018

The 57-year-old president says the country's leadership can not forget "for a second" its commitment to the people of Cuba.

According to Kremlin's press service, Putin sent a congratulatory telegram to Diaz-Canel Bermudes, in which he "expressed his confidence that the country will continue to achieve the goals proclaimed after the Cuban revolution under new leadership, and that it will reach new milestones of social and economic development".

Next to him was the empty seat once occupied by Fidel, who died in 2016. Xi sent a separated message to the general secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Raul Castro Ruz, in which he also committed to keeping close communication with him to take bilateral ties to a higher level.

Diaz-Canel was elected in a landmark vote of the National Assembly which took place on Wednesday - he was the sole candidate for the presidency - with the result formally announced on Thursday.

Two years after taking over from his ailing brother in 2006, Castro launched a series of reforms that expanded Cuba's private sector to almost 600,000 people and allowed citizens greater freedom to travel and access to information.

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Raul has been in power since 2006, when he took over after illness sidelined Fidel. After the terms expire in 2028, Diaz-Canel should use his other position as the head of the Communist party to guide his own successor before stepping down in 2031.

The transfer of power comes at a precarious time in Cuba's history.

In his first speech as the new head of state before the National Assembly, Diaz-Canel said that "in this new legislature there will be no space for those aspiring to a capitalist restoration".

The transition is seen as a historic shift from an era that began with Fidel and Raul Castro's 1959.

But Diaz-Canel has also publicly defended bloggers and academics who were critical of the Cuban government, under a system that represses dissent and is intolerant of criticism.

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But Cuba watchers and domestic analysts say he will favor continuity over change in the early days of his presidency - and could hit some stumbling blocks along the way.

One of the fiercest congressional critics of Cuba's government said the island's new president is a "thug" who is just the "same as the old boss".

The Cuban-born lawmaker told The Associated Press Thursday that as long as Raul Castro remains, "There are really no changes".

"He comes from the system, but it is the rigidity of the system which is the biggest obstacle to pushing forward with the necessary political and economic changes", said Michael Shifter, head of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank.

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Xi Jinping Congratulates Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel