Raul shuffles the deck

Raul Castro made some big changes in a cabinet shake-up in yesterday. The Cuban president consolidated ministries, appointed loyalists, and sent some of Fidel’s former confidants packing. The message seemed clear enough: I’m the Castro of the family now. Or, as Jaime Suchlicki, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami, told me, “Power is ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
588092_090303_raulresized2.jpg
588092_090303_raulresized2.jpg

Raul Castro made some big changes in a cabinet shake-up in yesterday. The Cuban president consolidated ministries, appointed loyalists, and sent some of Fidel's former confidants packing. The message seemed clear enough: I'm the Castro of the family now. Or, as Jaime Suchlicki, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami, told me, "Power is in the hands of Raul... Fidel is not relevant."

While the reorganization was likely a domestic calculation, there are
several points worth flagging for Cuba watchers beyond Havana's ports.

Raul Castro made some big changes in a cabinet shake-up in yesterday. The Cuban president consolidated ministries, appointed loyalists, and sent some of Fidel’s former confidants packing. The message seemed clear enough: I’m the Castro of the family now. Or, as Jaime Suchlicki, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami, told me, “Power is in the hands of Raul… Fidel is not relevant.”

While the reorganization was likely a domestic calculation, there are
several points worth flagging for Cuba watchers beyond Havana’s ports.

First, it is increasingly clear that the military — Raul’s closest ally — will be the winner in his government. Top posts went to uniformed allies of the Cuban president, only adding to the stronghold grip that the military has over the economy, controlling over 60 percent. 

One department in the recent shake-up is telling: agriculture. High food prices and shortages have fueled discontent in recent months. So Castro has put food production squarely in military hands. Just six months ago, Raul Castro allowed peasants to borrow land from the government for cultivation — a measure he hoped would spur both public and black market supplies. Now, he wants the military to bring even more “efficiency” to cultivation. “He wants to try to increase food production to calm down the Cuban people, who are upset,” says Suchlicki.

Is the move one step further towards talks with the Obama Administration? Or perhaps a signal that Fidel’s health continues to decline? I can’t tell you the answers, but at least now we know who to ask: While Fidel strolls in the park, Raul is running the show. 

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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