Raul Castro shakes up Cuban government

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Raul Castro replaced eight ministers yesterday in a shake-up that tossed aside prominent figures linked to his older brother Fidel Castro in what was billed as a move to boost government efficiency.

The changes put Raul Castro’s stamp on the government a year after he took over as president following Fidel Castro’s resignation due to illness.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque was the biggest name to lose his post, while Carlos Lage, a vice president who many considered an economic reformer, was replaced as executive secretary of the Council of Ministers by a top military official, Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra.

Perez Roque and Lage were considered the most prominent members of a younger generation of Cuban leaders.

The ouster of Perez Roque, one of the most visible members of the government and a former personal secretary to Fidel Castro, comes despite a number of recent foreign policy successes and as Cuba waits to see if new US President Barack Obama will move to ease the long trade embargo against the country’s communist government.

He was replaced by his deputy, Bruno Rodriguez.

Lage, a Fidel Castro protege who led economic reforms in Cuba after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, apparently retained his position as a vice president on the Council of State, Cuba’s top policy-making body.

Among others put aside were were Raul de la Nuez, minister of foreign trade, and Jose Luis Rodriguez Garcia, the longtime minister of economy and planning.

The changes, said Cuba expert Phil Peters at the Lexington Institute in Virginia, mean “Raul Castro is streamlining the government and putting some of his own people, including some from the military, in key positions.”

“I see no implications for relations with the United States,” he said.

A statement from the Council of State led by Raul Castro said the changes were intended to make Cuba’s government more compact and functional, and to work toward “perfecting” the Cuban system. The ministries of fishing and food were combined, as were the ministries of foreign investment and foreign trade, according to an announcement read on state-run television.

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