Castro clears out Fidel's cabinet
Article from: Agence France-Presse
From correspondents in Havana
March 03, 2009 09:55am, Daily Telegraph
CUBAN President Raul Castro today replaced several members of his cabinet, putting his own stamp on government in Havana one year after assuming power from his older brother Fidel.
In a sign that he is emerging from the shadow of former president and revolutionary icon,
Castro, 77, fired foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque and cabinet chief Carlos Lage, two long-time lieutenants under the elder Castro.
In making his first major cabinet shuffle since assuming power one year ago, the Cuban leader cited the need for greater efficiency and a consolidation of the country's unwieldy democracy, saying that the shakeup would lead to "a more compact and functional structure".
The move most notably replaces Perez Roque, Havana's chief diplomat since May 1999 with a by a vice minister, Bruno Rodriguez.
Mr Lage, meanwhile, retains his post as one of Cuba's vice presidents of the Council of State, but has been replaced by General Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra as cabinet chief.
The shuffle affects about 10 cabinet positions, including Cuba's commerce, farming, fishing and interior ministries, among other positions.
The shakeup allows Raul Castro to put his own imprint on a government that still bears the hallmarks of the decades-long Fidel Castro regime, even though the former Cuban leader, 82, has remained out of the public eye since undergoing surgery three years ago.
Still, Fidel Castro's presence remains strongly felt throughout Cuba. He remains the titular head of the Cuban Communist Party, and his rambling written commentaries have been a regular feature of the Cuban press since he left power.
Raul Castro has trod gingerly while trying to fill his brother's outsized shoes during his first year in office, instituting reforms at the margins of Cuba's institutional communism.
He has been much more dynamic in the area of foreign relations, meeting during his first year in office up to a dozen leaders from around the world, including from an increasingly left-leaning Latin America.
He has strengthened relations and trade ties not only with Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, but Cuba's communist allies China and Russia.
Another area that remains little changed is the domain of human rights, observers said.
A report last week by the US State Department found in fact that respect for human rights and basic freedoms deteriorated in during the year that Raul Castro was formally elected the new leader of the communist-run island.
Although the report found that Cuba's 11.2 million inhabitants were more likely to suffer rights abuses under Raul, he has instituted several cautious economic reforms, including provisions allowing private contractors back into Cuba's transport sector.
Raul Castro also has allowed Cubans to buy computers, own mobile telephones, rent cars and spend nights in hotels previously only accessible to foreigners - if they can afford such luxuries at the average monthly salary equivalent of about $US17 ($27).
The communist island marked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution on January 1.