BY NANCY SAN MARTIN | Miami Herald
In the first Cuban government change since Raul Castro began ruling the island a month ago, a well-known hardliner and reputed rival was named minister of communications and information science.
The appointment of Ramiro Valdes Thursday was viewed by most Cuba-watchers as significant because of his perceived rivalry with Fidel Castro’s brother, and because it gives him control of the flow of information in and out of the island.
‘‘Better to keep your enemies closer than your friends,’’ said Andy Gomez of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
Ra�l Castro, 75, was made provisional leader on July 31 after his older brother Fidel underwent surgery for a still undisclosed ailment.
Vald�s, now about 74, was with the Castro brothers during the failed attack on the Moncada army barracks in 1953 now marked as the start of the revolution. He was jailed with them and later joined their guerrilla group that toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista. But for more than two decades, Raul Castro and Vald�s ran rival power centers—Castro, the well-respected armed forces and Valdes, the feared Interior Ministry, in charge of domestic security.
The two are reported to have clashed often and in 1985, Valdes was dismissed as minister and member of the Cuban Communist Party’s ruling Political Buro, and faded away from the public spotlight. No official reason for his dismissal was ever given.
One brief biography says he was a founder of the Communist Party and member of its Central Committee since 1965. He served in the legislative National Assembly since 1976 and sat on its 31-member Council of State—its powerful standing committee—until 1997 and was reelected in 2003.
During Cuba’s opening to foreign investments in the mid-1990s, he was named head of the Grupo de Electronica, a government agency that deals in computers and works closely with Italian and Chinese companies providing Cuba with telecommunication and technology services.
Valdes’ appointment came at a time when the government is cracking down on illegal satellite TV antennas that receive foreign broadcasts, such as Univisi�n and the U.S.-funded TV Marti.
‘‘Now [Valdes] can directly confront ideology. He can control and repress the flow of information,’’ said Eugenio Y��ez, an economics professor who worked closely with top military officials in the 1990s and now lives in Miami.
The appointment, experts said, also may point to a third and more subtle significance: Cuba’s increasing economic ties to China.
Valdes has made several trips to China, including one in which he accompanied Raul Castro. The younger Castro is believed to look positively on Beijing’s system of an open economy with tight political controls.
On Aug. 25, Havana announced the appointment of a new ambassador to China, Carlos Miguel Pereira, long viewed as the right-hand man to Foreign Minister Felipe P�rez Roque.
‘‘Raul is trying to emphasize that [both hardliners and reformers] have a stake in the future of the country,’’ said Frank Mora, a professor at the National War College in Washington.
APPOINTED: Ramiro Valdes is Cuba’s new minister of communications and information science.