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Miguel Diaz-Canel became President of Cuba on Thursday after the National Assembly elected him a day earlier, as Raul Castro stepped down. (Photo: @ajplus/Twitter)

Vowing to Defend Ideals of Socialist Revolution, Miguel Diaz-Canel Steps in as Cuba's New President

"In Cuba there is no space for those who aspire for a restoration of capitalism."

Julia Conley

Entering office as Cuba's new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel said Thursday that he would focus his leadership on ensuring that "the revolution continues its course"—promising the modernization of the island nation's economy but making clear that he would fiercely defend its socialist system from outsiders who have pressured Cuba to change.

"In Cuba there is no space for those who aspire for a restoration of capitalism," Diaz-Canel told the National Assembly in his inauguration speech. "The mandate given by the people to this house is to give continuity to the Cuban revolution in a crucial historic moment."

Diaz-Canel, who was born a year after the revolution led by Fidel Castro which overthrew the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, has risen in the Communist Party's ranks over the last three decades. He served as vice president for five years under Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, after Fidel handed over power to him due to poor health.

The inauguration, following Castro's reported selection of Diaz-Canel as his successor and an almost-unanimous vote by the National Assembly, marks the first time since 1959 that the country will be led by a president who is not in the Castro family.

Raul Castro resigned Thursday but will remain the head of Cuba's Communist Party. His presidency was marked by market reforms made in the hopes that they would strengthen the island's economy, and the opening of diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 2014.

Since President Donald Trump's administration began last year, the relationship has chilled again as Trump has reinstated some restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba. Despite the widely-celebrated thawing of relations between the two countries since, Trump denounced the agreement forged by President Barack Obama in 2014 decision as a "terrible and misguided deal."

Diaz-Canel said in his inauguration speech that he would not move to change the island's foreign policy, saying "he would hold dialogue with anybody who treated Cuba as an equal," according to Reuters.

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