Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CUBA: Shakeup Will Bring No Major Changes, Say Observers

Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Mar 2 2009 (IPS) - President Raúl Castro announced Monday the biggest cabinet shuffle in decades in Cuba, merging several ministries and sacking more than 10 senior officials, including Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque and cabinet chief Carlos Lage.

Academics who spoke to IPS do not see, however, major novelties in the shakeup, nor do they believe it will bring about the hoped-for changes in the economic sphere. "Perhaps it is early to express an opinion, but for now I just see more of the same," said one, who asked to remain anonymous.

A statement by the Council of State released at the end of the midday news programme said the reorganisation was aimed at a "more compact and functional structure, with fewer organisms of the central administration of the state and a better distribution of the functions that they carry out."

The replacement of Pérez Roque with First Deputy Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla took observers by surprise, as did the removal of Lage as cabinet chief or secretary of the Council of Ministers, a position that was handed to General José Amado Ricardo Guerra.

Pérez Roque, 43, and Lage, 57, were two representatives of a new generation of leaders in Cuba.

The communiqué does not refer to the post of vice president, held by Lage, one of the driving forces behind the economic reforms of the 1990s.

Pérez Roque’s dismissal, meanwhile, came in the middle of a series of diplomatic achievements, like Cuba’s formal admission to the Rio Group – the main Latin American policy coordination forum – several trips abroad by Raúl Castro, and a string of visits by Latin American presidents, including this week’s visits by Presidents Leonel Fernández and José Manuel Zelaya of the Dominican Republic and Honduras, respectively.

The restructuring includes the merging of the ministries of Foreign Trade, Foreign Investment, and Economic Cooperation. Rodrigo Malmierca was named minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, which will also cover economic cooperation activities.

The ministries of the Food Industry and the Fishing Industry will also merge, under the leadership of María del Carmen Concepción González, who was previously released from her position as a member of the Secretariat of the Communist Party Central Committee.

Economy and Planning Minister José Luis Rodríguez García, who was also one of the vice presidents of the Council of State, was replaced in both posts by Marino Murillo Jorge, minister of Domestic Trade until Monday.

Another academic, who also asked not to be identified, said institutional structures should be simplified at all levels, "to ensure that productive enterprises or units have the necessary autonomy."

In this sense, he said it would be advisable to further reduce the number of institutions and streamline them, to strengthen agriculture and food production, considered strategic due to Cuba’s heavy dependence on food imports.

In his view, the ministries of Sugar and Agriculture should also merge, in order to address the needs of a food industry requiring urgent, far-reaching reforms. "A deep change would have been the unification in one ministry of these two ministries and the ministries of the fishing and food industries," he said.

Among those "released" from their posts – in the words of the official statement – are Alejandro Roca Iglesias and Alfredo López Valdés, the ministers of the Food Industry and the Fishing Industry, respectively, as well as Foreign Trade Minister Raúl de la Nuez.

Finance Minister Georgina Barreiro was replaced by another woman, Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, who was a member of the Secretariat of the Communist Party Central Committee.

Margarita Marlene González Fernández, first deputy minister in the Labour Ministry, is now minister, replacing Alfredo Morales Cartaya.

No explanations were provided about any of the changes, nor was information given as to the future activities of any of the dismissed officials.

In another decision of strategic importance for Cuba, the Council of State, presided over by Raúl Castro, named José Millar Barrueco to head the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, which will take over supervision of the "Scientific Pole", comprised of Cuba’s main scientific institutions, which up to now responded directly to the Council of State.

That ministry was vacant since Rosa Elena Simeon, who held the post since the creation of the ministry in 1994, died in 2004.

According to the official statement, the shakeup was agreed on the basis of a proposal by President Raúl Castro after prior consultation with the Communist Party Politburo.

When he became president on Feb. 24, 2008, Castro announced that the country’s institutions would continue to be "perfected."

He also asked parliament to "continue consulting with the leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro" with respect to "decisions of special import for the future of the nation, especially in the areas of defence, foreign policy, and the socioeconomic development of the country."

A few days earlier, Fidel Castro, who stepped aside due to serious health problems in July 2006, had announced his decision not to accept reelection as president of the Councils of State and Ministers, positions he held since 1976. However, he is still first secretary of the Communist Party.

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