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Cuba loses one of its most important economic-political figures

Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a politician and president of the largest business group in Cuba, the Business Administration Group (Gaesa) of the Cuban army, died this Friday at the age of 62 due to cardiorespiratory arrest. López-Calleja was known as “the czar of the Cuban economy.” His surprise death leaves a big gap and will transform the dynamics of Cuban power at a time of strong economic crisis on the island.

“With pain we announce to our people that in the early hours of Friday, July 1, Division General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja died of a heart attack,” Cuban television announced this Friday.

López-Calleja was the discreet president of the powerful Gaesa business conglomerate of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), one of the main players in the island’s tourism industry that manages hotels, supermarkets, communication and distribution companies, as well as the first source currency from Cuba, a key element in a country that imports 70% of what it consumes.

In 2020, then-US President Donald Trump placed López-Calleja on a US blacklist, prohibiting US individuals or companies from dealing with him and freezing all his assets under US jurisdiction.

Since 2011, he was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, and since 2021, one of the members of the Party’s Political Bureau, the highest entity of political power on the Caribbean island.

Trajectory

López-Calleja was born on January 19, 1960 in the province of Villa Clara. As a student, he held various positions in the Student Federation of Secondary Education and was active in the Union of Young Communists (UJC). At the end of his training in the former USSR, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Trade of Cuba.

He worked at the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), where he served as the minister’s liaison with the Ministry’s Directorate of Economic Collaboration before becoming head of section and department. In 1990, he went on to serve in the military Counterintelligence and participated in the war in Angola.

He began directing the Gaesa Business System in 1996, a position he held for almost three decades until his death.

Finally, he was a member of the Central Committee of the Party, until he reached the Political Bureau. He was also a deputy in the National Assembly and advisor to the president of Cuba.

According to the Executive of Miguel Díaz-Canel, “he has received numerous decorations for the result of his work, among which are: the Ignacio Agramonte medals of first class, Internationalist Combatant of second class, for the Victory Cuba-RPA, Combatant for Production and Defense, as well as the distinctions for the Service of the FAR”.

López-Calleja was also married to Raúl Castro’s eldest daughter, Déborah Castro Espín, with whom he had two children. After their divorce, he remained on good terms with the Castro family.

various reactions

A brief article in the Granma party newspaper lamented the death of López-Calleja and saluted his “brilliant record of services to the Homeland and the Cuban Revolution.”

“I feel deep pain when I express my condolences and those of the people of Cuba to the family and friends of Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja. A revolutionary has left us, a man who served the country and the revolution in all its trenches,” For his part, Cuban President Díaz-Canal wrote on his social networks.


However, outside the country, there were more controversial reactions about the departure of López-Calleja.

“Castroism loses a key man in its brutal machinery. General López-Calleja was in the business of power and enriched himself at the head of the military enterprise,” said the Republican congresswoman of the United States, of Cuban origin, María Elvira Salazar.

“In closed and communist regimes this may indicate that there is a purge and there is internal tension,” said Orlando Gutiérrez, leader of the human rights organization Cuban Democratic Directorate.

“With the death of López-Calleja they are going to have to give water to dominoes. They are left without tokens,” said economist Martha Beatriz Roque, the only woman imprisoned by Fidel Castro during the Black Spring, as indicated by the Spanish newspaper ‘El Mundo’.

A death “that shakes the political leadership on the island” according to ‘El País’

López-Calleja kept a very low profile and rarely appeared in photos or on television, but his influence had increased notably since President Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Castro in 2018. He even accompanied the head of the Cuban Executive on some official visits to the Foreign.

What explained the Spanish newspaper ‘El País’ in an article dedicated to him this Friday, “After the definitive withdrawal of Raúl Castro, these movements and the entrance of López-Calleja to the Political Bureau and Parliament could be interpreted as a sign that his role in the future was going to be increasingly relevant”.

Stock image.  President and First Secretary of the Communist Party Miguel Diaz-Canel waves a Cuban national flag as he delivers a speech during a rally in Havana, Cuba, on July 17, 2021.
Stock image. President and First Secretary of the Communist Party Miguel Diaz-Canel waves a Cuban national flag as he delivers a speech during a rally in Havana, Cuba, on July 17, 2021. REUTERS – ALEXANDRE MENEGHINI

According to William LeoGrande, professor of government at the ‘American University of Washington’, “López-Calleja played a central role in the success of foreign exchange business under the umbrella of the GAESA conglomerate”, adding that “whoever succeeds him, both in Gaesa as in the political bureau, will immediately become one of the most influential leaders in Cuba, especially in matters of economic policy.

At a critical moment for Cuba and in the midst of a serious economic crisis, Gaesa was “criticized for the opacity of its operations and for concentrating the country’s largest investments in the construction of hotels at these critical moments”, however, as also reports ‘El País’, “Gaesa is today one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency income,” and the disappearance of López-Calleja “creates a new scenario in the structure of Cuban power.”

With EFE, Reuters and international media



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Written by Editor TLN

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