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Javier Galeano/AP
Cuban President Raul Castro

Castro Revamps Cuban Administration, Ousting Some Fidel Loyalists

March 03, 2009 02:03 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Cuba’s President Raul Castro made changes to his administration this week that could heighten opportunity for improved U.S. relations and quell potential unrest.

Big Changes in Havana

Castro removed powerful officials, some of whom were important loyalists to his brother, former president Fidel Castro. He also reduced the power of Vice President Carlos Lage, giving Cabinet Secretary duties to Gen. Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra, a former top military official.

Castro’s ousters came abruptly, according to Associated Press reporter Will Weissert, and were aimed at establishing a “more compact and functional structure.” Despite the “major reorganization,” Cuban media seemed to somewhat downplay the changes, announcing the shift “at the end of the midday news, after the weather and sports.”

Reaction in Cuba was mixed, but some were optimistic. Marta Jimenez, a 65-year-old retiree, told the AP, “People here are not used to change. But I think this was necessary and will be for the better.”

Recently, reporters have noted a mood of unsettled discontentment in Cuba, and discussed President Obama’s unique opportunity to change the course of U.S. relations with Cuba. It seems possible that that mood will begin to change now, and that Obama’s opportunity is even more apparent.

Ray Sanchez of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that the younger generation of Cubans has been longing for change. According to Sanchez, Cuba expert Brian Latell said that since Raul Castro took office last year, expectations have “been raised and not fulfilled.” Sanchez also cites an article by Fidel Castro biographer Ignacio Ramone, which describes “a growing chorus of Cuban intellectuals and artists who have expressed concerns about the failure to implement reforms.”

AP reporter John Daniszewski touched on the fact that “circumstances are pressuring Obama to make a move on Cuba soon—or miss an opportunity to advance his pledge to restore America’s leadership in the world and in its own hemisphere.”

Meanwhile, in Cuba, “[A]n air of expectancy is palpable,” and both Cuban leaders and leaders of other Latin American countries are anticipating a change in U.S. direction in the region, according to Daniszewski. Obama is expected to take action after the Summit of the Americas, being held in Trinidad in late April.

Opinion & Analysis: Cuba at "historical pivot point"

In The Washington Note, Steve Clemons postulates that due to Raul Castro’s changes, Cuba has arrived at “one of those historical pivot points in normally opaque (often Communist) regimes that will be remembered for generations.” Furthermore, this could be “a real moment of opportunity in US-Cuba relations,” but only if the Obama administration decides to let the Cold War with Cuba thaw, as previous administrations have failed to do.

Background: Recent Raul happenings

Castro’s attitude toward the United States has been somewhat contradictory in the past few months. In January, on the 50th anniversary of the communist revolution in Cuba, his speech left little hope for improved relations with the United States. But only a month prior, Castro’s proposed prisoner swap was considered a “gesture of goodwill” that underscored his hopes of easing relations with the United States.

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