Raúl Castro replaces top Cuban officials

The changes replaced some key Fidel Castro loyalists as Raúl seeks to put personal stamp on government

The new Cuban president Raul Castro at Cuba's National Assembly election session in Havana
The new Cuban president Raul Castro at Cuba's National Assembly election session in Havana. Photograph: Ismael Francisco/AFP/Getty images

President Raúl Castro abruptly removed some of Cuba's most powerful officials today, putting a personal stamp on the government in the biggest shake-up since he took over from his ailing brother Fidel Castro a year ago.

The changes replaced some key Fidel loyalists, including the longtime foreign minister and the secretary of the council of state, with men closer to Raúl.

They also reduced the enormous powers of a vice-president credited with saving Cuba's economy after the fall of the Soviet Union.

But analysts saw no immediate indication that the changes are related to hopes for closer US-Cuban ties now that both countries have new presidents.

The abrupt shake-up, which also consolidated some of Cuba's many ministries to create a "more compact and functional structure", was the first major reorganisation under Raúl Castro. It was announced at the end of the midday news, after the weather and sports.

The most prominent of those ousted, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, was the youngest of Cuba's top leaders and had been widely mentioned as a possible future president.

Perez Roque, 43, had been Fidel Castro's personal secretary before becoming foreign minister almost a decade ago.

"He was someone who was very close to Fidel Castro and built his career working directly for Fidel Castro," said Phil Peters, a Cuba specialist at the Lexington Institute near Washington.

Perez Roque was replaced by his own deputy, Bruno Rodriguez, who once served as Cuba's ambassador to the United Nations.

Peters said it was too early to say whether the changes could affect relations with the new administration of President Barack Obama, whose proposals for easing US restrictions on Cuba have created hopes for the resumption of negotiations between the two countries on ending decades of hostilities.

"There is nothing that indicates it's a reaction to anything in the United States," Peters said, noting that Raúl Castro has long spoken of streamlining Cuba's government.

Vice-president Carlos Lage, 57, apparently kept his job as vice-president of the ruling council of state, but was replaced as cabinet secretary by General Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra, who had been a top official in the military that Raúl Castro ran for decades.

Lage was credited with helping save Cuba's economy by designing modest economic reforms after the Soviet Union collapsed. Peters said there was no sign Lage's economic role was being reduced.

Longtime Cuban economy minister Jose Luis Rodriguez was replaced by Internal Commerce Minister Marino Murillo Jorge; Finance Minister Georgina Barreiro Fajardo was replaced by Lina Pedraza Rodriguez of the Communist party's secretariat; and Labour Minister Alfredo Morales Cartaya was replaced by Vice-minister Margarita Marlene Gonzalez Fernandez.

Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since July 2006, when he underwent emergency intestinal surgery.

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