Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, 54, has been elevated to the top echelon of the Communist Party as part of what ruler Raúl Castro described as an “urgent” effort to break the stiff resistance to the promotion of younger leaders.
“It is urgent for us to break the blockade in thinking that still exists when it comes time to select and prepare young leaders,” the 81-year-old Castro was quoted as telling a meeting Tuesday of the party’s Central Committee. “Time is running short.”
Castro did not identify who’s behind the “blockade,” but there have been several unconfirmed reports of officials of Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) throwing quiet but sharp elbows to position themselves or their friends for top party and government posts in coming years.
“We have brilliant youths who we must guide and transmit to them the knowledge that we have acquired in so many years of revolution,” official news reports quoted Castro as saying. “On the issue of (party) leaders, we have taken positive steps but the effort required is big.”
Castro, who is first secretary of the PCC, then announced that Rodriguez had been elevated to the Political Bureau, the party’s top standing body. Only four of its 16 members are under the age of 65 and the oldest is 84. Five hold the rank of general.
Castro has been insisting on the need to bring more youths, women and blacks into the party since a national congress of the PCC last spring, but there have been hints that some middle- and high-ranking party officials are not happy making way for newcomers.
“Some of these people say they sacrificed to rise within the party, paid their dues if you will, and now see these newcomers on the fast track,” said a European diplomat who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on Cuba issues.
Cuba analysts have long looked to the Politburo’s membership for the kinds of changes that could first point to possible successors to Castro, who has proposed a 10-year term limit for top government officials. That could force him to leave his office no later than in 2018.
But the elevation of Rodriguez to such a powerful position surprised many who considered him as no more than a disciplined revolutionary who moved up the chain because he was too cautious to risk making any mistakes.
“He’s not one you could have a conversation with and feel that he could provide any information or guidance that was outside the safety lanes,” said John Kavulich, who met Rodriguez several times when he was Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations. “He was a typical bureaucrat, whether a Havana bureaucrat or a Washington bureaucrat.”
Rodriguez started in public life as national president of the Federation of High School Students, then served in the Federation of University Students while earning his law degree and teaching for a few years at the University of Havana.
He has been publisher of the Rebel Youth newspaper, official voice of the Union of Communist Youths (UJC) and one of the island’s three national newspapers, and headed Cuba’s medical mission to Pakistan following a devastating earthquake there in 2005.
Since 1981, he has been head of the UJC’s international relations department, deputy ambassador and ambassador to the U.N., and then deputy foreign minister — with almost each promotion following in the footsteps of Fernando Remírez de Estenoz.
Remírez de Estenoz, who also headed Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington from 1995 to 2001, was considered a potential future leader until 2009, when he was fired in a crackdown along with Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque.
Former Cuban ruler Fidel Castro later indicated that Lage and Roque had become too power hungry, saying that “the honey of power … awoke in them ambitions that led them to an undignified role.”