Castro replaces foreign minister with fiercely loyal aide
Castro named his close personal adviser and chief of staff, 34-year-old
Felipe Perez Roque, to take over the post from Roberto Robaina, who
served as foreign minister for six years.
Perez Roque "is familiar as few are with the ideas and thoughts of Fidel,"
Communist Party daily Granma said in a front-page story announcing the
A former student leader and current member of Cuba's ruling Council of
State, Perez Roque has shadowed Castro at official functions for years and
is said to be extremely loyal to the president.
The Granma statement did not overtly criticize Robaina, who is often viewed
as a reformer within the Communist Party, and whose open and flamboyant
style brought him both praise and criticism during his tenure. But the article
made clear that Castro wanted change.
Castro's choice of Perez Roque took into account "the current complexity
the tense international situation, its growing importance for the future of our
country and the world, and the need for more profound, rigorous, systematic
and demanding work," in international relations, the newspaper said.
The statement said Robaina would be moved to another government post,
Leaving the foreign ministry Friday after a full day inside, Perez Roque
he was committed to his new job.
"I am very happy with my new duties," he said. "I intend to maintain the
policies of my predecessor."
Move surprises political establishment
Although rumors had circulated in recent weeks that Robaina was going to
be moved from the foreign ministry, the news surprised much of the political
As recently as Thursday afternoon, a foreign ministry spokesman announced
that Robaina was to leave Monday for a tour of Venezuela, Panama and
Haiti -- a trip that he will now no longer make.
Robaina was not seen in public Friday and issued no statements.
The United States said it didn't believe the change signaled a shift in
"We do not anticipate any changes in our relations. We view this as shuffling
deck chairs," said State Department spokesman James Rubin.
Human rights issues dog Cuban diplomacy
Cuba has suffered several diplomatic setbacks recently following the
conviction of four of the country's best-known dissidents on sedition charges
The U.N. Human Rights Commission voted narrowly last
month to criticize Cuba's human rights record.
King Juan Carlos of Spain, scheduled to visit Cuba this spring,
still has not announced a date for the visit. Diplomatic sources say
the trip has been postponed because of human rights concerns,
adding that the monarch may not come to Cuba until the Ibero-American
summit in November.
Foreign minister since 1993, Robaina has overseen the communist country's
foreign policy during years of extreme economic hardship following the
collapse of the former Soviet Union.
Through his almost constant travels around the world, Robaina has been
credited with helping Cuba expand and strengthen its ties with many nations
following the loss of its communist allies.