Cuba

Continuity but some new faces as Cuba’s parliament selects ministers

Cuba’s former President Raul Castro applauds as he sits next to Miguel Díaz-Canel during a previous session of the island’s National Assembly. The National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament, met Saturday and approved the Council of Ministers that will serve under Díaz-Canel.
Cuba’s former President Raul Castro applauds as he sits next to Miguel Díaz-Canel during a previous session of the island’s National Assembly. The National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament, met Saturday and approved the Council of Ministers that will serve under Díaz-Canel. Cubadebate via AP

The Council of Ministers approved Saturday to serve under Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel includes nine new members, but there’s also plenty of continuity with the council of his predecessor, Raúl Castro.

Díaz-Canel, 58, who was elevated to the Cuban presidency on April 19 when Castro retired, was born after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, but the new Council of Ministers shows that his government is not yet ready to depart from the old guard. It still includes aging “historicos” who fought in the revolution.

Díaz-Canel serves as both president of the Council of Ministers and Council of State, and Cuba watchers had been anticipating his ministerial picks as a way of measuring whether he might begin to move out from the long shadow cast by Castro, who is still head of Cuba’s Communist Party.

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The National Assembly of People’s Power, Cuba’s parliament, approved the selection Saturday of Salvador Valdés Mesa, who also was chosen as first vice president of the Council of State in April. A former labor leader, he joined the ranks of the revolutionaries as a teenager.

The National Assembly also discussed proposed constitutional reforms aimed at generational renewal that would change how government is structured in Cuba.

The Council of Ministers would be under the direction of a prime minister, a position that currently doesn’t exist in Cuba, and it would be Cuba’s highest executive and administrative body.

The president, vice president and secretary of the National Assembly would fulfill those same roles in the Council of State. Also proposed is limiting the presidential term to five years with a president allowed to serve only two consecutive terms. The minimum age for president would be set at 35 years, and the president would have to be under 60 years when selected for a first term.

Holdovers from Castro’s Council of Ministers who were retained as vice presidents on the Council of Ministers were: Ramiro Valdés, an 86-year-old revolutionary commander who also serves as a vice president on the Council of State; Gen. Ulises Rosales del Toro, 76, founder of the Communist Party of Cuba; and Ricardo Cabrisas, 81, who had served as minister of the economy and planning.

Another military man, José Amado Ricardo Guerra, remains as secretary of the Council of Ministers.

Promoted to vice president posts were Inés María Chapman, a hydraulic engineer who had headed the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, and Roberto Morales Ojeda, a doctor who had served as minister of public health since 2013. Both Chapman and Morales also were elevated to vice president posts on the Council of State in April.

Joining the Council of Ministers will be José Ángel Portal Miranda, who replaces Morales as minister of public health, and Antonio Rodríguez Rodríguez, who takes over Chapman’s former job as president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources.

Abel Prieto, 67, who had served as Minister of Culture twice — most recently since July 2016 — will be replaced by Alpidio Alonso Grau, 54, a poet and editor.

The other new members of the Council of Ministers are:

Iris Quiñones Rojas, minister of the food industry.

Betsy Díaz Velázquez, minister of domestic trade.

Alejandro Gil Fernández, the former deputy of economy and planning, who now becomes minister.

Raúl García Barreiro, minister of energy and mines.

Jorge Luis Perdomo Di-Lella, minister of communication.

Oscar Manuel Silveira Martínez, minister of justice.

Besides the vice presidents and secretary, 17 returning members of the Council of Ministers were approved by the National Assembly.

Among the departures from the Council of Ministers was Marino Murillo, a former vice president who was known as the czar for Castro’s stalled economic reforms. He also lost his position on the Council of State in the spring.

Cuba’s National Assembly has been meeting in Havana’s Convention Palace to debate a new constitution that not only affirms the socialist character of the revolution but also the irrevocability of Cuba’s political and economic model. A draft of the new constitution will be submitted to the Cuban people for consultation before it is approved.

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

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