Cuba names first prime minister in over 40 years

The appointment of as prime minister of Manuel Marrero Cruz, center, is part of a process of Cuba’s decentralization and generational change from the revolutionary old guard. (AFP)
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Updated 22 December 2019

Cuba names first prime minister in over 40 years

  • Country resurrects post last held by Fidel Castro
  • New PM Manuel Marrero ‘is not coming to the job to transform, but rather to implement and manage’

HAVANA: Cuba’s first prime minister in more than four decades — long-serving tourism minister Manuel Marrero — took office Saturday as the country resurrected a post last held by Fidel Castro.
The appointment of Marrero, 56, as head of government is part of a process of decentralization and generational change from the revolutionary old guard that is aimed at extending and protecting Communist Party rule.
“This proposal was duly approved by the political bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said, presenting it to the country’s National Assembly, which unanimously signed off.
Immediately after his presentation, Marrero received a handshake from former president Raul Castro, the leader of the Communist Party.
Marrero “is not coming to the job to transform, but rather to implement and manage. The president is the one who leads,” said Cuba specialist Arturo Lopez-Levy of Holy Names University in California.
Marrero served as tourism minister from 2004, late in revolutionary hero Fidel Castro’s administration, continuing in the post under Fidel’s brother Raul and the current president, Diaz-Canel.
He began his career in government in 1999 as vice president of the powerful Gaviota Hotel Group belonging to the armed forces, becoming its president a year later — a post he held until 2004.
“Throughout his career ... (Marrero) has been characterized by his modesty, honesty, work capacity, political sensitivity and loyalty to the party and the revolution,” Diaz-Canel said.
The new premier “has led the tourism industry in a commendable fashion, which constitutes one of the main lines of development of the national economy,” he added.
That is precisely why Marrero “who has all this wide-ranging experience in tourism and working with investors,” is the pick, according to Lopez-Levy.
“It underscores the priority that this area holds in the country’s development strategy,” he said.
The position of prime minister was last held by Fidel Castro in 1976.
But the post was abolished when Castro transitioned to the presidency, taking over from Osvaldo Dorticos after the country’s constitution was restructured.
Castro was a unique prime minister “given the weight of his persona,” Lopez-Levy said.
“Ultimate power in the country was in Fidel’s” hands during his time as prime minister from 1959-76, even though Dorticos was president and head of state, he said.
The appointment of a prime minister may signify a separation of powers but Lopez-Levy insisted that in Cuba it represents more of a “separation of functions” given the communist concept of political unity and the fact that the country is a one-party state.
Cuba’s constitution required that the candidate come from the 605-member National Assembly, be at least 35, “be a Cuban citizen by birth and hold no other nationality.”
The premier has the power to hire and fire state employees as well as overall control of provincial governors, another position restored under the new constitution.
Diaz-Canel also took aim at the United States on Saturday, at a time of high tensions between the superpower and the island nation.
He said that 2019 was “a year full of challenges, tension and aggression” by Washington.
The United States carried out a “brutal, insane” tightening of its long-running embargo, but “we are alive,” Diaz-Canel said.


Ethiopian PM says troops ordered to move on Tigray capital

Updated 43 min 17 sec ago

Ethiopian PM says troops ordered to move on Tigray capital

NAIROBI, Kenya: Ethiopia’s prime minister says the army has been ordered to move on the embattled Tigray capital after his 72-hour ultimatum for Tigray leaders to surrender ended, and he warns residents to “stay indoors.”
The statement Thursday by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office means tanks and other weaponry can now close in on the city of some half-million people. His government has warned of “no mercy” if residents don’t move away from the Tigray leaders in time.
The new statement asserts that thousands of Tigray militia and special forces surrendered during the 72-hour period. “We will take utmost care to protect civilians,” it says.
Communications remain severed to Tigray, making it difficult to verify claims.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below:
The United Nations says shortages have become “very critical” in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region as its population of 6 million remains sealed off and its capital is under threat of attack by Ethiopian forces seeking to arrest the regional leaders.
Fuel and cash are running out, more than 1 million people are now estimated to be displaced and food for nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea will be gone in a week, according to a new report released overnight. And more than 600,000 people who rely on monthly food rations haven’t received them this month.
Travel blockages are so dire that even within the Tigray capital, Mekele, the UN World Food Program cannot obtain access to transport food from its warehouses there.
Communications and travel links remain severed with the Tigray region since the deadly conflict broke out on Nov. 4, and now Human Rights Watch is warning that “actions that deliberately impede relief supplies” violate international humanitarian law.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s 72-hour ultimatum for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front leaders to surrender ended Wednesday night. His government has said Mekele is surrounded.
The UN has reported people fleeing the city. Abiy’s government had warned them of “no mercy” if residents didn’t move away from the TPLF leaders who are accused of hiding among the population.
But with communications cut, it’s not clear how many people in Mekele received the warnings. The alarmed international community is calling for immediate de-escalation, dialogue and humanitarian access.
Abiy on Wednesday, however, rejected international “interference.”