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Raul Castro shakes up Cuban Cabinet

Eight ministers are moved or replaced, many of whom had been close to his brother Fidel. It is seen as an effort to put his stamp on Cuba's leadership.

March 03, 2009|Tracy Wilkinson

MEXICO CITY — President Raul Castro on Monday abruptly removed some of Cuba's most high-profile officials from top posts in what he said was an effort to streamline his administration.

The sweeping overhaul also seemed designed, at least in part, to allow Castro to put his stamp on the country's leadership by promoting officials close to him and sidelining those associated with his brother, Fidel. Castro formally replaced his ailing sibling as president a year ago.

"This is the first time Raul Castro has undertaken a really major reshuffling of the leadership," said Daniel Erikson, a senior associate at Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington, D.C. "This is his chance to put the team he wants in place."

In all, Castro moved eight ministers, according to a statement read on state television. He merged some ministries and removed or demoted three men closely associated with the 49-year reign of Fidel Castro. Two of them, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Cabinet secretary Carlos Lage, had frequently been mentioned as potential successors to Fidel Castro.

The high-profile Perez Roque, 43, was one of Cuba's youngest senior officials, starting as a leader in university youth organizations and later serving as Fidel Castro's personal secretary. Perez Roque, who was replaced by his deputy, Bruno Rodriguez, was not named to a new position.

Lage, 57, had held his powerful post for nearly two decades; he remains vice president of the Council of State.

He was replaced as Cabinet secretary by Brig. Gen. Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra, who served as Raul Castro's secretary at the Defense Ministry. Lage had been seen as an economic reformer, credited with rescuing Cuba's economy in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Raul Castro also removed Jose Miguel Miyar Barruecos, another Fidel Castro confidant, from his position as secretary of the Council of State, shifting him to the vacant seat heading the Science and Environment Ministry.

"What you are seeing is that just being a favored son of Fidel is no longer enough to guarantee a top job," Erikson said.

Cuba has been enjoying a period of active and successful foreign policy, with a steady stream of visiting heads of state from Latin America, the Caribbean and elsewhere. The shake-up announced Monday, especially the removal of Perez Roque, was not expected to change that, largely because Raul Castro himself sets the tone.

Nor would foreign policy toward the United States be expected to change, for the same reason, analysts said.

Castro has expressed a willingness to open dialogue with Washington, especially with a new president in the White House.

Cubans have been watching for signs from the Obama administration that would suggest the two countries could end decades of hostility. Obama has said he would not lift the 5-decade-old trade embargo on Cuba, but he favors easing restrictions on travel and remittances to the communist country.

The statement announcing the government reorganization said it came in response to Raul Castro's calls for "a more compact and functional structure" that would make Cuba's gigantic bureaucracy more efficient.

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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