The New York Times
May 29, 1999

Castro, Facing Outcry on Trials, Switches His Foreign Minister

          By REUTERS

           HAVANA -- 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.

          The appointment 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

          Pérez 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
          in 1991.

          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
          Soviet Union.

          The statement Friday said Robaina would move to another post but did
          not elaborate.