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Miguel Diaz-Canel becomes 1st non-Castro Cuban leader in 6 decades

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel speaks on Monday as first secretary of Cuba's Communist Party at the Palacio de Convenciones, in Havana, Cuba. Photo by Ariel Ley Royero/EPA-EFE
1 of 5 | Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel speaks on Monday as first secretary of Cuba's Communist Party at the Palacio de Convenciones, in Havana, Cuba. Photo by Ariel Ley Royero/EPA-EFE

April 20 (UPI) -- For the first time in more than 60 years, the leader of Cuba is not a Castro.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba on Monday formally chose Miguel Diaz-Canel to succeed President Raul Castro, the brother of late Cuban leader Fidel Castro who ruled the island for decades, as its leader.

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Diaz-Canel became first secretary of the party, which is the only party allowed in Cuba by law. As leader of the party, Diaz-Canel is ruler of the Caribbean island.

Diaz-Canel, 60, is retaining the title of president, but made history as the first person without the Castro name to run Cuba as head of the Cuban Communist Party since the 1959 revolution.

Diaz-Canel was born in 1960, a year after the start of the Cuban Revolution in the province of Villa Clara, where the movement to overthrow the Fulgencio Batista regime took place.

Unlike the Castros, Diaz-Canel did a three-year stint in the Cuban army. As a young man, he was party secretary in Villa Clara and in Holguin and minister of higher education. Raul Castro appointed him vice president in 2012 after he took over for Fidel Castro, who died in 2016.

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Diaz-Canel previously succeeded Raul Castro in 2018 as Cuban president. In fact, his ascension to top of the Communist Party on Monday occurred three years to the day after he succeeded Raul Castro as president.

After his selection, Diaz-Canel told party leaders that he plans to consult Raul Castro in strategic decisions. He expressed a similar message online, tweeting under the hashtag "Unity and Continuity."

Some critics say the leadership transition in the party is mostly a guise, and expect more of the same.

"The Castro regime is trying to fool the international community," Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., who is of Cuban ancestry, told CNN. "The Castros are still in power."

Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un welcomed the new leader of Cuba's party and called Diaz-Canel "comrade."

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