January 10, 2019 / 1:27 AM / 10 days ago

Cuban president replaces ministers in first cabinet reshuffle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel replaced his transport and finance ministers this week in his first cabinet reshuffle since forming his own government in July and amid a cash crunch and growing discontent with the island’s transport sector.

FILE PHOTO: Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel speaks during a welcoming ceremony to Cuban doctors just arrived from Brazil at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Fernando Medina/File Photo

Cuban state media said on Wednesday that Transport Minister Adel Yzquierdo, 73, and Finance Minister Lina Pedraza, 63, had been “freed from their roles” without explaining why, adding they would be given “other responsibilities.”

Both had been originally named by former President Raul Castro during his 10-year mandate and reconfirmed in their roles by Diaz-Canel, who took office from the 87-year-old in April.

They will be replaced by the respective vice ministers in each ministry, Eduardo Rodriguez, 52, and Meisi Bolanos, 48. Some Cubans questioned the logic of promoting those who had also overseen strategies they deemed had failed.

Transport is one of the top complaints of Cubans living in the capital, with new regulations vastly reducing the number of private collective taxis on the road that had supplemented the creaking public transport system.

Many Cubans say they are struggling to get around and it is taking them far longer and costing more to do so.

“Transport is awful,” said Maritza Carrion, waiting for a bus in the business district of Vedado.

In one of his last public appearances, Yzquierdo announced on state television in December that Cuba was importing hundreds of microbuses and buses to alleviate the transport shortage.

The government has periodically done so in the past, only partly resolving the chronic transport shortage for a short while.

Meanwhile Cuba’s national airline Cubana has had to slash flights over the last year due to a lack of planes that it blamed partly on the decades-old U.S. trade embargo.

It also faced a plane crash that killed 112, its deadliest in nearly 30 years, just weeks after Diaz-Canel took office.

“What we need are real solutions because it’s been nearly 60 years that we’ve been behind on transport,” said Yadier Osorio, 41. “The government still hasn’t found a solution.”

Under the article on state-run website Cubadebate about the cabinet changes, many readers called for greater transparency over such decisions. Growing internet access is fostering greater public debate online and accountability from officials.

Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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