HAVANA – Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel will retain in his government many of the ministers chosen by his predecessor, Raul Castro, including those managing key areas like the armed forces, the interior, foreign affairs and tourism.
He has, however, changed the minister of the economy, a vital position given the financial difficulties the island is going through.
Diaz-Canel announced on Saturday before the National Assembly the composition of his Cabinet, since when he was named president last April he announced that he would keep all of Castro’s ministers until the first of the two plenary sessions held annually by the legislature.
The makeup of the new Cabinet, whose naming was ratified by the lawmakers, strengthens the message of continuity announced by the new president when he took office, since among the 34 members who make up that group there are only nine new faces, most of them in positions of less importance.
The most relevant change is that of the economy and planning minister, with the veteran Ricardo Cabrisas replaced by the up-to-now vice minister of that area, Alejandro Gil Fernandez.
Gil Fernandez takes control of Cuban economic policy at a difficult time, since the island’s finances are suffering from the crisis in Venezuela, its principal economic and political ally, which has drastically reduced its shipments of subsidized petroleum to Cuba, forcing the island to deal with other oil-producing countries that charge market prices.
In addition, the end of the thaw with the United States imposed by President Donald Trump, who added new sanctions to the financial embargo on Cuba, has increased the chronic financial difficulties of the Caribbean country, which is on a permanent hunt for foreign investment to bolster its economy.
Despite the naming of Gil, other areas that are fundamental to Cuban development will keep the same ministers, such a Manuel Marrero in tourism – named in 2004 by Fidel Castro – and Rodrigo Malmierca in trade and foreign investment, the principal official in charge of attracting capital from abroad.
Also repeating are the heads of the two ministries that control the all-powerful State Security: Vice Admiral Julio Cesar Gandarilla at the Interior Ministry and Gen. Leopoldo Cintra in command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).
Another of the important names that were ratified is Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, considered a “hard-line” politician with a vast experience in international forums after nine years in office, and who will continue to direct Cuban diplomacy.
The new Cabinet has an average age of 60 years, 26 percent are blacks or mestizos, and is made up of 26 men and eight women, down one from the nine in the previous Cabinet.