Cuban defence minister dead at 75 – government

Julio Casas Regueiro

HAVANA (Reuters) – General Julio Casas Regueiro, Cuba’s defence minister and longtime aide to President Raul Castro, died yesterday of heart failure at the age of 75, the Cuban government said.

It declared tomorrow a day of national mourning for the former bank accountant who rose to become one of the country’s most powerful men.

His death raises again the issue of Cuba’s aging leadership and the lack of any obvious successors. President Raul Castro is 80 and first vice president Juan Machado Ventura is 81.

Casas fought alongside Raul Castro in the 1959 Cuban revolution, then was his right-hand man while Castro served as defence minister under older brother Fidel Castro for 49 years.

When Raul Castro succeeded his brother as president in February 2008, he named Casas defence minister.    Casas was working as an accountant at a bank in the city of Santiago de Cuba when in 1957 he quit his job to join the budding revolution against dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Eventually, he helped lead Cuban military-run enterprises that are some of the largest in the country and include everything from tourism to retail stores.

Casas served for years on the Communist Party political bureau, where the government’s top decisions are made, and also was a vice president on the Council of State.

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