May 28, 1999

Castro replaces foreign minister with fiercely loyal aide

                  HAVANA (CNN) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro on Friday
                  replaced his foreign minister with a young protege, a move that
                  appeared aimed at giving the president tighter control over
                  Cuba's international policy.

                  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," the
                  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 of
                  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,
                  without elaborating.

                  Leaving the foreign ministry Friday after a full day inside, Perez Roque said
                  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 Cuba's
                  international policy.

                  "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
                  in March.

                 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.