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Ramiro Valdes Menendez and his role in Raul's regime.

For those Cuba-watchers who refuse to accept any notion of reform or improvement under the present leadership of Raul Castro and are still anchored in past assumptions and stereotypes, the political comeback of Ramiro Valdes Menendez is the absolute confirmation that Cuba is not moving ahead, but backwards.

The phrase "the dreaded former interior minister" crops up in every analysis or prediction on Cuba. But who, really, is this man nicknamed Ramirito?

Born in 1932 and raised in Artemisa (at that time part of Pinar del Rio province, but now located in the province of La Habana), Valdes was the youngest warrior who attacked the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953.

In December 1956, he survived the Granma landing--along with 11 other comrades--and by summer 1958, Fidel Castro had appointed him second-in-command to Che Guevara's guerrilla column invading the central province of Las Villas.

As such, Ramirito was the only comandante who had been a major player in the three crucial episodes of Fidel's revolution: the Moncada attack, the Granma landing and the invasion from Oriente to Las Villas.

He is one of the three comandantes de la revolucion, a rank without operational meaning, but a potent political symbol nonetheless.

Valdes was founder and chief of the Departamento de Investigaciones del Ejercito Rebelde (DIER), becoming interior minister in June 1960, when Cuba's civil war was spreading across the island.

Ramirito became a key player in crushing Cuba's counterrevolution by the mid-1960s, and all other subversive activities in the late '60s and early '70s. Those whom he defeated, and managed to survive anyway, are not only bitter but are appalled and cannot understand his current political comeback.

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Understandably so. Ramiro Valdes was responsible for planting distrust and implementing methods of surveillance and hostility, while unfairly abusing his authority against revolutionaries who criticized and questioned things.

He was intolerant of homosexuals and religious people--even among fellow ideologues--and well beyond what was considered official policy.

During his reign at DIER, he also allowed serious political conflicts to simmer within the counterintelligence and intelligence directorates. His professional and personal relations with Raul Castro got worse by the day.

MINISTER OF INTERIOR--AGAIN

By 1969, the Politburo decided to remove Ramirito from the Interior Ministry; he was replaced by Sergio del Valle Jimenez, a comandante and MINFAR's first deputy minister.

In 1978, Fidel removed Valle and brought Valdes back as minister of interior. Expectations for an improvement failed, and personal rivalries and tensions only increased.

By the time of the III Party Congress in 1986, Valdes was again gone as interior minister and as a member of the Politburo. It seemed as if his political career was over.

But then, he landed a new job as director of national electronics (Copextel). In the beginning, it was a very small project, but soon it became the hub for the development of Cuba's telecom, software and IT industry--in growing association with Japanese, Korean and Chinese enterprises.

The 1990s was Copextel's coming-of-age, and also heralded the creation of Cuba's Industrial Group for Electronics, attached to the Ministry of Steel and Machinery (SIME).

Later on, this Industrial Group of Electronics came under the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications. In less than 10 years, Ramirito's group had become the single most important entity within the new ministry, and he was obviously the man to replace the outgoing minister.

He was once again readmitted to the Politburo after Raul's official nomination as president of the Council of State in February 2008.

A KINDER, GENTLER RAMIRITO?

Valdes is one of the key players in the restoration and expansion of Cuba's current alliance with China. The branch of government for which he has been responsible for more than 20 years is extremely sensitive to Cuba's national security--but it also represents one of the major opportunities for Sino-Cuban technological cooperation.

In February 2007, Valdes defended Internet restrictions as a response to U.S. aggression.

The Internet "constitutes one of the tools for global extermination," he said, referring to U.S. policies, "but is also necessary to continue to advance down the path of development."

Valdes, at an international conference on communications in Havana, defended Cuba's "rational and efficient" use of the Internet but warned that "the wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled."

So this is the new Ramiro Valdes: leader of one of the most advanced sectors of Cuba's economy, a shrewd negotiator when doing business with Asian conglomerates, and a technocrat surrounded by a highly sophisticated team of IT scientists.

Valdes has finally retooled himself into this top executive role, having long ago left behind his legacy as an active comandante in charge of the Interior Ministry. Our conclusion: his role today has little--if anything--do with the bad old days of radical intolerance.

Former Cuban intelligence officer Domingo Amuchastegui has lived in Miami since 1994. He writes regularly for CubaNews about politics in Cuba and the South Florida exile community.
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Author:Amuchastegui, Domingo
Publication:CubaNews
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:823
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