WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

Press Call: Cuba’s Leadership Transition 

3:00 PM EDT Tuesday, 17 April 2018
Call 1-877-876-9174

Washington, D.C.— Raúl Castro is scheduled to step down as Cuba’s president on April 18, the first time in nearly 60 years that a Castro will not serve as the country’s top leader.  The Cuban National Assembly will formally select the next president, and it is likely that First Vice President Miguel Díaz Canel will take the place of 86-year-old Raúl Castro.  Diaz Canel will face the challenge of handling a complicated relationship with the United States, as well as the question of economic and political reform on the island.

In anticipation of Cuba’s historic leadership transition, human rights advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is holding a press conference call with WOLA Vice President for Programs Geoff Thale and WOLA Director for Cuba Marguerite Jiménez, who have been tracking Cuba issues for years.

Jiménez and Thale will provide brief remarks on the following issues, before opening up the discussion to a Q&A session:

  • This will be a smoothly handled and orderly transition of power in Cuba. It will also represent a long-awaited generational shift in Cuban politics, as the country’s National Assembly will likely select a new leader who will neither be a Castro nor an active participant in the 1959 revolution.
  • Cuba’s new president will have to address serious economic problems and will be responsible for responding to the demands of a new generation in Cuba. Political and economic reform will be difficult under any circumstances—however, the U.S. government can either facilitate this process by working to reduce tensions between the two countries, or the United States can make it more difficult by increasing current hostilities.
  • At the moment, the United States is making it harder for Cuba’s new president to lead a process of reform. Under President Trump’s administration, the United States has imposed stricter policy regulations affecting travel and trade with Cuba. Another significant setback is the Trump administration’s move to dramatically reduce staffing levels at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, citing concerns over alleged “sonic attacks” afflicting U.S. diplomatic personnel. However, an FBI report, following four investigative trips to the island at the invitation of Cuban authorities, found no evidence that “sonic attacks” had taken place.
  • On top of creating a more difficult environment for reform under Cuba’s new president, the U.S. government is only hurting itself by maintaining a bare-bones diplomatic presence on the island.. Our experts will argue that it is of utmost importance that the United States restore staffing levels to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, in the interests of both Americans and Cubans who stand to benefit greatly from a more engaged relationship between the two countries.
  • Any additional political or economic reforms that may result from a Díaz Canel presidency will likely be slow to materialize. Change is coming in Cuba, with or without a more engaged relationship with the U.S. government—however, that change is going to come gradually. The U.S. government and other observers should not set unrealistic expectations for the pace of change in Cuba once the new president assumes power. Reforms are typically implemented slowly and unpredictably in Cuba, which makes it all the more important that the U.S. government seek to deepen engagement at this time, and allow the process of reform in Cuba to play itself out.

WHEN: Tuesday, April 2018 at 3 p.m. EDT, via conference call.


  • WOLA Vice President for Programs Geoff Thale, an expert on Cuba who has accompanied multiple congressional delegations to the island, and who has spoken and been published extensively regarding internal issues in Cuba and U.S. policy towards the country.
  • WOLA Director for Cuba Marguerite Jiménez, who has been traveling to and working on Cuba for the past 15 years, is a leading expert on human rights and reforms in Cuba, as well as U.S.-Cuba relations.

To join in, please dial 1-877-876-9174 if you are in the United States or Canada. For international callers, please see call +1-785-424-1672. Please reference the Conference ID “CUBA” to join the call.

The discussion and the Q&A session will be held in English.

Please RSVP to this call.