Castro, Facing Outcry on Trials, Switches His Foreign Minister
-- President Fidel Castro named a youthful aide as
Foreign Minister Friday in a surprise change.
The aide, Felipe
Pérez Roque, 34, a former student leader, is on the
governing Council of State.
He replaces Roberto
Robaina, who had had been widely seen as a likely
member of a possible collective leadership in a post-Castro era. Experts
and diplomats said Robaina, 43, might be paying the price for the
negative foreign reaction to Cuba's acting against internal opponents this
year, particularly the trial and conviction of a group of four dissidents.
But the experts
did not rule out another high post for Robaina, possibly
with a view to galvanizing youth.
of Pérez, a staunch Castro loyalist regarded as a
political hard-liner, could bolster Castro's base and increase his control
over foreign policy, the analysts said.
The change, the
first switch of a senior ministerial post in years, was
announced in a statement in the state press.
"Like few others,
he is familiar with the ideas and thinking of Fidel," the
statement said, noting Pérez's near-constant accompanying Cuba's
veteran leader on official activities in recent years.
Castro made the
change "taking into account the current complexity of
the tense international situation, its growing importance for the future of
our country and of the world and the need for deeper, more rigorous,
more systematic and more demanding work in this area," the statement
came from the Students' Union, where Castro picked him as an
assistant. He became a legislator at 21, part of the Communist Youth
leadership, and was elected to the Communist Party Central Committee
There was no
official explanation of why Robaina had been replaced,
although rumors of his departure have been rife.
The four dissidents'
conviction aroused wrath overseas, not just from the
United States, but also from Cuba's biggest commercial partners,
Canada, Spain and Italy, and major Latin American and Asian nations
like Brazil and Japan.
That left an
internal perception that Cuba, and particularly the Foreign
Ministry, could have handled the trial better such as allowing a foreign
observer to be involved.
Robaina was generally
perceived as a potential reformer when he was
named in March 1993. But he used old-style Communist language to
discuss Government positions.
A former head
of the Communist Party youth wing, he had impressed
Castro with his dynamic style.
He is credited
with helping Cuba rebuild foreign relations after the loss of
its strongest allies when Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe and the
Friday said Robaina would move to another post but did