Cuba announces changes to its cabinet

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba announced a reshuffle of its cabinet on Thursday, relieving the minister in charge of construction for undisclosed “errors” and stripping a powerful vice president of a secondary role he held as head of the Telecommunications Ministry.

Fidel Figueroa was being replaced as head of the Construction Ministry for “errors committed in his job,” according to an official government statement read out on the state-controlled television news. His replacement was Rene Mesa Villafana, who since 2007 was head of the institution that controls Cuba’s water supply.

The statement also said Ramiro Valdes, 78, would step down as head of the Telecommunications Ministry.

Far from a demotion, the statement said the move was being made to give Valdes more time to oversee the leadership of both his old ministry and the Construction Ministry.

Valdes is a former leader of the rebels who brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959 and an ex-interior minister, and is also considered to be extremely close to Fidel’s brother, Raul, who is now the president.

Valdes has also had a key role in building relations between Cuba and its most important ally, Venezuela. In addition to being a Cabinet vice president he has been a vice president of the communist country’s supreme governing body, the Council of State, since December 2009.

The moves were the latest in a series of Cabinet changes carried out in recent months as cash-strapped Cuba tries to revamp its economy, firing half a million state workers and opening up new opportunities for self-employment.

In September, the island’s government announced the removal of the minister of oil and mining in a sternly worded statement that cited her “deficiencies” and “weak manner.”

The island’s health minister was replaced in July, a month after the transportation minister was fired for professional mistakes and the head of the Sugar Ministry was ousted after admitting incompetence.