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Defense minister Casas dies; Cintra Frias to replace him.

Julio Casas Regueiro, Cuba's minister of defense who also ran the military's lucrative economic ventures for many years, died Sept. 2 of heart failure at the age of 75. His replacement is 70-year-old Leopoldo Cintra Frias, a Politburo member since 1991 and first vice minister of the Ministry of Defense (MINFAR) since 2008.

Three days of national mourning were declared in memory of Casas, the most important figure from the Cuban Revolution to die since Juan Almeida Bosque in 2009.

Born in 1936, Casas--together with his younger brother Senen--fought against Gen. Fulgencio Batista as members of the rebel army commanded by Raul Castro. Both men became close associates of Raul. Senen was promoted from personal aide to MINFAR's chief of staff, where he served for more than a decade until he died from complications suffered in a serious car accident years before.

After two years in the police force, Julio was named head of MINFAR's logistics; he also served brief intervals as head of the Eastern Army and was also a field officer in Ethiopia.

A graduate of the Voroshilov Soviet General Staff Academy, Casas for many years headed MINFAR's Vice Ministry for Economic Activities, and as such was responsible for implementing the economic system of perfeccionamiento empresarial (PE).

According to the Associated Press, "beginning in 1990, Casas ran the Defense Ministry's Business Administration Group, which includes a host of efficient and profitable enterprises designed to generate the hard currency Cuba has needed to buy critical imports. One key company imports computers and other electronics.

"The armed forces also manage a chain of hundreds of small consumer goods stores and a tourism company that runs more than 30 hotels, with subsidiaries that provide domestic tourist travel by air and land. The military also has a large operation producing basic foods for the general population."


AP added that "the military's role in the economy has only grown during Raul's presidency, with trusted generals placed in command of several large state enterprises. In 2010, a military-run company paid some $700 million to buy out Telecom Italia's stake in state phone company Etecsa, a move that raised eyebrows because it came even as the government complained it was desperately short on funds."

While Casas was not considered a brilliant field commander, he was a key institutional pillar, and an efficient organizer and manager.

He surrounded himself with a team of young, brilliant economists and engineers, who gained considerable experience from the world's most advanced economies. In 2008, when Raul formally took over the presidency of Cuba, Casas became head of MINFAR.

Cintra Frias, born to a campesino family, joined the guerrillas against Batista at the age of 16. He spent most of the war fighting at Fidel Castro's side. He was promoted to the rank of captain in 1959 and a few years later again promoted, this time to comandante.

He excelled at Voroshilov Academy. A field commander throughout his entire career, Cintra Frias commanded mostly artillery and armored units. He spent more than a decade in overseas missions in Africa and the Middle East. Extremely courageous yet media-shy, he appears to be highly respected and admired by his soldiers and fellow officers.

Cintra Frias has worked closely with all aspects of PE and was an active diplomatic negotiator during the final agreements on the Angolan conflict in 1988. He's also very much aware of the importance of foreign investment and market relations to Third World economies.

Commenting on Cuba's relationship with the USSR, he once said "the Soviets were never able to control us, regardless of the fact that they tried more than once."

The big question now is who will replace Cintra Frias as MINFAR's first vice minister. So far, the strongest candidates seem to be 66year-old Gen. Alvaro Lopez Miera, 66, the current chief of staff who is very close to Raul, and Gen. Onelio Aguilera Bermudez, chief of the Eastern Army and the youngest army chief in Cuba's military.

Both have proven to be excellent field commanders, but Aguilera is almost 20 years younger than Lopez Miera. Appointing Aguilera would be an excellent opportunity for Raul to make good on his repeated pledge to "rejuvenate" Cuba's leadership.
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Author:Amuchastegui, Domingo
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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