President Miguel Diaz-Canel experienced an uncomfortable moment in the Jiguani municipality, in Granma, on June 16, 2023, when making a tour of neighborhoods hit by heavy floods.
In early June, strong winds made the rivers of the Cauto basin, and the rivers that cross through Camaguey city, overflow, leading to six fatalities and significant material losses. Despite the magnitude of damages, the Cuban leader didn’t travel to the provinces hit until a week later.
He was only present in Granma and Camagüey for a couple of hours, in visits organized to emphasize Diaz-Canel’s “closeness” to the Cuban people.
The “script” was followed without any problems until a woman rebuked him in Jiguani, for neglecting a “veteran of the Revolution.” According to her complaint, the old man was sleeping “in a hammock in a house that was falling to pieces.”
The woman’s complaint unsettled the Cuban president, who tried to explain himself by alleging the Government doesn’t have the resources needed to help the hundreds of old veterans and the 300,000 Cubans who are also living in vulnerable situations. At the end, he accepted a piece of paper with the victim’s information and promised to look into his case.
Diaz-Canel hasn’t returned to Granma ever since. In the past two months, the Cuban leader’s agenda has been marked by six events (national and international), half of which have been tours abroad.
Looking for that photo
Three days after his visit to Jiguani, Diaz-Canel took a flight to Italy for an official visit which also took him to the Vatican, Serbia and France.
The tour sparked controversy because of the presence of the President’s son-in-law. During the audience with Pope Francis, Diaz-Canel introduced him as: “a Law graduate, he’s working with me and is the black sheep of the family,” because of his alleged critical nature. The following night, Diaz-Canel and his wife Lis Cuesta were back in the public spotlight after a video was posted on X (formerly Twitter), in which they were seen leaving a high-end restaurant in Rome.
In political terms, the most important moment of this trip came in France, during the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact, hosted by President Emmanuel Macron. Diaz-Canel attended this meeting as both a representative of Cuba and the Group of 77 and China, which is probably why he was seated alongside his French counterpart, who lavished him with attention and smiles.
Diaz-Canel returned to Cuba on June 24th. When he arrived in Havana, he called the visit “interesting and fruitful,” without going into details about the agreements he’d signed.
Less than a month later, on July 14th, Diaz-Canel and his wife left for Europe again, for a five-day trip. The tour involved official visits to Portugal and Belgium, the latter to attend the EU-CELAC Summit, which had been announced as an opportunity to “strengthen ties” with European community leaders.
This happened with the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, and European Council President, Charles Michel, who listened to Diaz-Canel’s speech about the importance of bilateral relations. Diaz-Canel also met with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk.
In November 2023, the Cuban Government will be subjected to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, a mechanism that assesses the human rights situation in Member States, every five years. Conversations about human rights between Havana and the European Union are also scheduled for that month.
The EU is crucial for investments and Cuba’s market for exports and tourism services. However, this economic relationship depends upon the political agreement between both parties and these bilateral conversations.
Then came Diaz-Canel’s participation in the BRICS Summit (the economic, political and social group formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Cuba’s first invitation to this meeting, as a G-77 spokesperson, is framed within Diaz-Canel’s third international tour in the past two months.
A significant number of top Cuban government leaders toured South Africa (where the Summit was held), Angola, Mozambique and Namibia, between August 19-28. “First Lady” Lis Cuesta was along for the tour, of course.
No time for “domestic” affairs
Between these two European tours, Diaz-Canel made a quick government trip to Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba, on June 29th and 30th. There, he visited agricultural development areas and works at the new cement plant, as well as meeting with leaders of both provinces. His busy agenda meant that he wasn’t in any place for too long, just like what had happened days before in the areas that had been hit by floods.
The other two “national” events that the President attended in recent months were sessions of the National Assembly of People’s Power – which he joined as soon as he returned from Brussels – and the ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks.
Significantly, he didn’t take part in the tribute to the firemen who lost their lives at the Matanzas Super Tanker Base, which was organized for August 5, 2023, on the first anniversary of the disaster.
The past two months have been a continuation of a trend that we’ve been seeing since November 2022: the President making almost one trip abroad every month.
Here is a list of the most recent trips:
November 16-26. Argelia, Turkey, Russia, China.
December 3-8. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados (to attend the VIII Caricom-Cuba Summit), Grenada.
January 23-25. Argentina (to attend the CELAC Summit), Venezuela (“work meeting” upon his return from the regional summit).
February 10-12. Mexico (his fourth visit since he was sworn in as president. In Campeche, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrado bestowed the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest award in Mexico for the head of a foreign State, to Diaz-Canel, Belize (the first there by a Cuban president).
March 24-25. The Dominican Republic (to attend the 28th Ibero-American Summit).
June, July and August. The above-mentioned trips to Europe and Africa.
These trips amounted to a total of 47 days. In other words, Diaz-Canel has spent one out of every seven days outside the country since November 1, 2022 up until August 28, 2023.
During the same time period, his presence in Cuba has been much less constant. Only his visits to Pinar del Rio (in November and December 2022) and Santa Clara (during the “electoral campaign” in March and in May), and the abovementioned to Camaguey, Granma, Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba can be considered “trips” in the broadest sense of the word.
His participation in the July 26th ceremony and the burial of the remains of Generals Julio Casas Regueiro and Luis Alberto Lopez Callejas had a strictly formal meaning.
The old system of government visits, that defined Diaz-Canel’s first administration, has been replaced with provincial meetings (which are regularly held in different provinces on the same day). The first round of these meetings took place in January 2023, and the second round was organized in May 2023. A carefully selected audience prevents potentially conflictive situations, like the one in Jiguani.
A few days ago, the US website PanAm Post estimated that renting the plane used by the Cuban President – an Airbus 340-600, with a capacity for 440 passengers would cost more than 323,000 dollars, just for the African tour. The Airbus belongs to Conviasa, the Venezuelan airline, and it isn’t known if the plane was given to Diaz-Canel and his party to use for free.
However, this figure makes us question the cost-benefit relationship of these long official trips that seem to divert the leader’s attention, which should be concerned, first and foremost with everyday life on the island he says he represents.
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