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Raul Castro Replaces Cuban Foreign Minister, Cabinet Chief

Cuba's President Raul Castro has reassigned several top government ministers, in the first personnel shakeup since he took office last year.

Cuban state media reported that the changes included 10 ministers and were intended to create a smaller, more efficient government structure. Named in the announcement were Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque -- prominent officials who have stood out because they are younger than many others in Castro's ruling circle.

The report said Perez Roque, who was a personal secretary to former Cuban President Fidel Castro, was being replaced as foreign minister -- a position he held for nearly a decade. It said the 57-year-old Lage will no longer serve as cabinet secretary.

Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst for the Lexington Institute near Washington, says it is unclear what will happen with Perez Roque. But he says Lage continues to hold a key role in the government. "He retains his job as Vice President of the Council of State, which is a much more important position, which in fact puts him in line of succession for the presidency," he said.

The announcement named several other ministries, including the offices of finance, food and fishing and heavy industry.

Since Raul Castro formally took over Cuba's presidency in February of last year, observers have been watching for the signs of change in the government that had been ruled for decades by his brother, Fidel. The aging leader has not been seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in 2006.

Peters says there are no real surprises in Monday's announcement because many of the individuals named to head the ministries are veterans in the Cuban government. He says the changes show Raul Castro is following through on a promise to make the government more nimble and responsive to people's concerns. But Peters says it does not mean break with the policies set out by Fidel Castro.

"To me, it would be something to get worked up [i.e., worry] about, if there was a clear sign in here that there was a change in direction in the government. But there is no sign of that," he said.

Peters says many analysts in the United States are watching Havana for a change in tone toward Washington, now that the U.S has a new president. But he cautions that the reorganization in Cuba does not necessarily indicate a thaw in the decades-old tensions between the two governments.