Cuba has replaced two high-ranking ministers in the days before the Communist Party Congress, in which Raúl Castro is expected to retire from politics.
Cuban state media reported Thursday that Leopoldo Cintra, 79, minister of the armed forces, would be replaced by Álvaro López, 77. Both men fought alongside Fidel Castro’s rebels during the revolution and later rose through the ranks of the military.
The departures came two days after officials announced that Ydael Jesús Pérez, 48, would be replacing Gustavo Rodríguez, 57, as minister of agriculture. Authorities also announced several economic reforms, including one that would allow Cuban ranchers to sell beef after meeting state quotas, something that has not been permitted since the early years of the revolution.
The replacements come as Cuba’s ruling party prepares to convene, starting Friday, for a four-day event in which leaders will discuss the island’s economic model and reforms. Raúl Castro, 89, who is the party’s first secretary general, a position considered more powerful than president, has previously said he will retire, potentially paving the way for a younger generation of party leaders.
The event comes as Cuba is in the throes of its worst economic contraction since the collapse of the Soviet Union and frustration on the island is mounting. Long lines for increasingly scarce supplies of food have once again become commonplace. Some have resumed embarking on perilous journeys across the Florida Straits, hoping to reach the U.S.
State media reported that Cintra’s replacement came at the recommendation of Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel, the island’s president, but released few other details. López is considered one of Raúl Castro’s most devoted acolytes. Though considered part of what’s known as the historic generation of rebel leaders, he is younger than many others in their late 80s and 90s.
The U.S. State Department sanctioned Cintra in 2020, citing “gross violations of human rights.” Officials accused him of helping Cuba prop up Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.
Andy Gomez, a Cuba scholar and former senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said the leadership replacements are “not surprising,” and potentially part of a larger generational change in the works for some time.
“The Cuban regime’s main concern is protecting political control,” he said. “They are doing this because they have prepared those who will be taking control.”