The Miami Herald
Thu, Feb. 12, 2004

Cuba's tourism chief replaced by army colonel

The Communist Party's newspaper said Ibrahím Ferradaz García had been 'freed' from his tourism post and replaced with a military colonel.


  A career technocrat has been dismissed as Cuba's tourism minister and replaced with a younger military colonel in what analysts said is part of a trend by the government to strengthen the island's armed forces.

  A short announcement Wednesday in Granma, the Communist Party's newspaper, said Ibrahím Ferradaz García, 54, had been ''freed'' from the post and succeeded by Manuel Marrero Cruz, 40, who served as president of a profitable tourism company run by Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

  ''Fidel Castro has decided that in order to guarantee the continuation of the revolution and the efficiency of the economy, he must rely on the military,'' said Jaime Suchlicki, director of the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.


  ''In a sense, he is relying on his brother Raúl, who controls the military. That helps with the succession,'' he said. Raúl Castro is minister of defense and Castro's designated successor.

  The shuffle follows a scandal in December in which the president and several managers of Cuba's largest state-run tourism enterprise were abruptly removed amid reports of a financial probe involving the disappearance of millions of dollars from the company.

  Government officials later confirmed the firings occurred because of ''grave errors'' in leadership but adamantly denied that the company, Cubanacán, had lost millions of dollars or that former president Juan José Vega -- or anyone else -- had been arrested.

  Over the past decade, Cuba's armed forces have taken over up to 60 percent of the island's economy, running much of the tourism and sugar industries and stores as well as export-import and construction firms.


  ''The Cuban military's diverse business ventures bring in an estimated $1 billion a year,'' according to a UM report in 2003. ``The military is not only a largely self-financing institution but a major player in the overall Cuban economy.''

  Cuba's key industries include nickel, steel, sugar, tobacco, petroleum and chemicals.

  But tourism seems to hold the most promise for its economic recovery from the collapse of Soviet subsidies in 1991, providing as much as $2 billion in gross income each year.

  An estimated 1.9 million tourists traveled to Cuba last year, a 12 percent increase over the previous year, according to Cuban government data.

  Officials have said they expect at least two million visitors by the end of this year.

  Experts said Marrero's appointment indicated a government desire to sustain its key industry because he brings a decade of experience to the new post.

  ''This is someone who has operational experience, going into a policymaking role,'' said John Kavulich, who monitors Cuba's economy.

  Marrero served as president of Grupo de Turismo Gaviota, one of the oldest military-run corporations.

  It controls about 8,500 of the island's roughly 40,000 hotel rooms and a subsidiary that operates domestic tourist flights.

  ''They've been very successful,'' said St. Thomas University professor María Dolores Espino, who has done extensive research on tourism in Cuba. ``Some of the most efficiently run entities are from Gaviota.''

  Ferradaz had served briefly as minister of investments and cooperation before his appointment as tourism minister in 1999 to replace Osmany Cienfuegos, who also was dismissed amid controversy.