Miami Herald
Wednesday, December 10, 1997

High-ranking Cuban leader dies

Herald Staff Writer

Veteran Cuban Communist leader Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, the third-highest ranking official in President Fidel Castro's government and the architect of Cuba's foreign policy for many years, has died at the age of 84, Havana announced Tuesday.

A brief announcement in the Communist Party's Granma newspaper said Rodriguez died Monday but gave no cause. He was known to suffer from Parkinson's disease and had spent the last years in and out of hospitals.

One of the last "historic" leaders of the Castro revolution, Rodriguez served as vice president of the ruling Council of State throughout the 1980s, in effect ranking only behind Castro and brother Raul, then armed forces chief.

He crafted much of Cuba's foreign policy, especially its political and economic relations with the Soviet bloc, and was one of the few senior Cuban officials who granted interviews to foreign journalists.

But he had been largely inactive for several years and was dropped from the Communist Party's highest ruling body, the Politburo, at the last party conference in October.

Rodriguez was already a 40-year-old official of the Popular Socialist Party, the pro-Soviet communist party in the 1950s, when a 26-year old Castro asked him to help the 1953 attack on the Moncada barracks that marked the start of his revolution against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship.

The party refused and condemned the attack as "guided by mistaken bourgeois conceptions." But, years later, as Castro's rebels began gaining ground in the mountains, the party threw its weight behind the armed struggle.

After Batista fled Cuba, Rodriguez, who had served as a Cabinet minister under Batista in the 1940s, became an economics adviser to Castro and helped him establish contacts with the Soviet Union.

Rodriguez was a relative moderate in his economic thinking -- he favored a decentralized economy and monetary incentives for workers while Fidel and Ernesto "Che" Guevara favored a centralized economy and moral incentives such as medals.

Fidel and Che won those battles, but Rodriguez continued to rise, heading the Agrarian Reform Institute, helping to found the Cuban Communist Party in 1965 and serving on its inner Politburo from 1975 to last October.

As vice president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers he was the third most powerful man in Cuba and the highest ranking civilian in a government dominated by veteran guerrilla comandantes.

He negotiated Cuba's entry into the Soviet-led trading bloc, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. COMECON's collapse after the fall of communism in 1989, as well as the end of massive Soviet subsidies to Cuba, plunged the island into a ghastly economic crisis from which it still suffers.

News reports from Havana said a who's who of senior government officials attended Rodriguez's wake Tuesday before he was buried in the Colon cemetery, once the final resting place for Havana's richest families.

One wreath carried a sign that said "To Carlos Rafael, from the Commander in Chief, Fidel Castro."