Likely successor to Cuba's Castro rejects US demands for change

HAVANA, Oct 8 (Reuters) - The man forecast to replace Cuban President Raul Castro early next year rejected U.S. demands that the Communist-run country change its political and economic system.

In a Sunday speech blasting U.S. pressure on the Venezuelan government and what he termed an effort to discredit the Cuban tourism industry, First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel said these and other recent events in the region proved “imperialism can never be trusted, not even a tiny bit, never.”

Diaz-Canel was quoting Ernesto Che Guevara at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of the revolutionary who had helped lead a Bolivian uprising modeled after Cuba’s.

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People walk past the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
A tour bus of Transgaviota drives past the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba June 13, 2017. Picture taken June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
An exterior view of the U.S. Embassy is seen in Havana, Cuba, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
People wait in line to enter the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, April 20, 2017. Picture taken April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
People wait to enter the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, April 20, 2017. Picture taken April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
A vintage car passes by in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Cuban flags fly near U.S flag beside the U.S embassy in Havana December 31, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
A man lowers the Cuban flag while standing amidst flagposts installed outside the U.S. embassy in Havana, December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Flagposts installed outside the U.S. embassy cast their shadows on the sidewalk of the seafront Malecon in Havana, December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Tourists pass by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, February 18, 2016. Picture taken February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Competitors run past the U.S. embassy during the Marabana marathon in Havana, November 15, 2015. In the year since detente, more Americans are visiting Cuba, and more Cubans are trying to reach the U.S., concerned that special treatment for Cubans may end. While foreigners are in a frenzy, most Cubans report little change. Although they have guaranteed education and healthcare and minimal fear of violent crime, their wages are poor and economic opportunities limited. Picture taken November 15, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
The Cuban flag flies at half staff in recognition of the death of Fidel Castro, the long time leader of Cuba, at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, U.S., November 28, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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“Cuba will not make concessions to its sovereignty and independence, nor negotiate its principles or accept the imposition of conditions,” Diaz-Canel said, apparently responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent statement at the United Nations that sanctions would not be lifted until the Caribbean island restores democracy and capitalism.

“The changes needed in Cuba will solely be carried out by the Cuban people,” Diaz-Canel said.

Castro, 86, has announced he will step down as president in February. Experts expect Diaz-Canel, 57, to become the first head of state since the early 1960s without Castro as a last name.

There are no direct elections in Cuba for national office.

Trump said in June that he would once more tighten sanctions on Cuba and seek a better deal from the country than the gradual detente achieved by predecessor Barack Obama.

The Trump administration has drastically reduced staffing at its embassy in Cuba and ordered a reciprocal reduction of Cuban diplomats in Washington due to a series of alleged “health attacks” on U.S. personnel in Havana.

The United States has not blamed Cuba for the still unsolved incidents but holds it responsible for not protecting its personnel. The administration has also issued a travel warning stating U.S. citizens might be targeted.

“Some unnamed officials are propagating unusual nonsense without any evidence, with the perverse aim of discrediting the impeccable reputation of our country as a safe destination for foreign visitors, including from the United States,” Diaz-Canel said.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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