Juan Contino Aslán, Mayor of Havana

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Juan Contino Aslán
Mayor of Havana
By Andrew Stevens, Deputy Editor

20 January 2008: Tapped as a future Cuban leader himself, Havana’s mayor Juan Contino Aslán owes his political career to patronage by his mentor and the de facto head of state Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel Castro. Calling for a revolution in every neighbourhood, the capital’s “people power” champion is courted by Marxists and social democrats alike. The mayor has been short-listed for the 2008 World Mayor Award.

Born in the capital in 1960, Juan’s first political role was within the José Martí Pioneer Organization, Cuba’s Soviet-style scouting movement. He then graduated to the Communist Youth Union, where he served as first secretary from 1993-1995. It was during this period that he became close to current de facto Cuban leader Raúl Castro, who supported Contino against then first secretary Roberto Robaina (later foreign minister). He also served during the late 1980s as part of the country’s involvement in the Angolan civil war.

After his stint as first secretary of the Communist youth movement, Contino took on the role of national coordinator of the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs). While the CDRs are best known as Stasi-styled neighbourhood committees for observing 'counter-revolutionary' activity, though they are are responsible for the administration of most basic local services, usurping the role of the conventional city government. As well as monitoring suspicious activity among residents, CDRs are even obliged to note personal behaviour of all residents, including family disputes and relationships. Their official role is to promote local awareness of government campaigns around improving citizens’ health and education. The CDR system was born as part of the 1960 overthrow of the Batista regime by Fidel Castro and its motto is “¡En cada barrio, Revolución!” (“In every neighborhood, Revolution!”).

Contino became President of the People's Power Provincial Assembly of the City of Havana (and therefore mayor) in 2003 following an internal dispute in the Cuban Communist Party, with Conrado C. Martínez Corona removed from the mayor’s post. Contino is also a member of the party’s central committee, a deputy to the national assembly and a member of the Council of State.

Following his 2006 meeting with Contino, London mayor Ken Livingstone said: “I was struck by the desire of Cuban representatives to get a full picture of how Cuba is currently seen in Europe and also by the Cubans’ criticisms of the current policy of some European governments which is deeply counterproductive.

Havana is both a city and a province within the Cuban state, with 15 lower-tier municipalities.

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