March 23, 2012
Cuban President Raúl Castro yesterday announced the departure from office of two long-time, high-ranking government officials. Jose Ramon Fernández, 88, vice-president of the Cuban Communist Party’s Council of Ministers, will be replaced by Higher Education Minister Miguel Diaz-Canel, 51. José Myar Barrueco, 79, minister of science, technology and the environment, will be replaced by Elba Rosa Pérez, former head of the Science Department of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
The cabinet changes, which come on the heels of the removal from office this month of Culture Minister Abel Prieto, are some of the most significant changes to Cuba’s senior leadership since the 2009 sacking of Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque. They are also a likely consequence of Castro’s desire to promote a new generation of officials to posts currently occupied by people in their 70s and 80s.
The shake-up also comes only a week before the widely anticipated visit to Cuba of Catholic Pope Benedict XVI on March 26–28. Since formally taking office in 2008, Castro has embarked on a series of reforms with the goal of improving economic conditions on the island. Any changes to Cuba’s political leadership are watched closely by outside observers for clues about Castro’s own succession plans.