In replacing key figures associated with Fidel Castro's near 50-year reign of Cuba, President Raúl Castro has taken his boldest move yet toward putting his own stamp on the government of the socialist nation.
The shake-up, the biggest since Raúl Castro officially replaced his older brother last year, includes two who were often considered potential successors to Fidel Castro.
"Raul is putting his stamp on the government, in terms of personnel and restructuring," says William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University in Washington. "If anyone had a doubt about who is in control, with this it can be put to rest."
It's not clear what the shift means in terms of economic policy or US-Cuba relations. One interpretation is that Raúl Castro is fulfilling a promise made a year ago to undo burdensome bureaucracy, a pressing concern amid today's economic crisis. The shuffle also moves Raúl's personal allies up, giving him new authority as he moves forward to address the island nation's deep economic woes.
One of the biggest surprises was that Felipe Pérez Roque, the foreign minister who was seen as Fidel Castro's protégé, has lost his position. That change comes amid speculation that President Barack Obama may seek warmer relations between the two nations.
Carlos Lage also lost his post as chief cabinet minister, though he retains his role as vice president of the Council of State. He will be replaced with a military official who has long worked alongside Raúl Castro.
In total, some 10 ministers were affected. Four ministries were also merged, including that of fishing and food, as well as foreign investment and trade. The government announcement states that more changes are on the way.
Phil Peters, a Cuba observer at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., says that Raúl Castro is carrying out a promise to make Cuban government more efficient. "This is a modest step, in terms of streamlining," he says. It is not, he says, a major policy shift. "I think this is Raúl Castro putting his own people into important positions," he says.
In his first year in office, Raúl Castro has made small reforms, but many observers say he has remained largely in the shadow of his older brother, who stepped down due to an undisclosed illness.