September 5, 2011
By Victoria Burnett, New York Times
HAVANA — Gen. Julio Casas Regueiro, the Cuban defense minister, who spent two decades at the helm of the military’s powerful complex of businesses and was a close associate of President Raúl Castro, died Saturday in Havana. He was 75.
The cause was heart failure, according to a statement issued by the Cuban Communist Party’s Politburo and published in several state-run newspapers.
General Casas was also a vice president of the Council of State, Cuba’s highest governing body. His death is a reminder of the cloud of mortality over Cuba’s aging leadership as it tries to reinvigorate the island’s weak socialist economy by culling public sector jobs and allowing more private enterprise.
Mr. Castro is 80, as is his top deputy, José Ramón Machado Ventura. The president’s brother, Fidel Castro, who led the country for decades but who no longer holds any official position, turned 85 last month.
While General Casas was not among the famous heroes of the Cuban revolution, he occupied an important place close to Raúl Castro, who has brought more of the country’s state-owned enterprises under the military’s umbrella since he formally took over from his ailing brother in 2008.
The Cuban military runs real estate businesses, factories, supermarkets and even a large tour operator, Gaviota. Its companies, many of which generate much-needed hard currency, enjoy a reputation for efficiency in a country dogged by mismanagement and a bloated bureaucracy.
When he announced General Casas’ promotion to defense minister in 2008, Raúl Castro praised his “brilliant” work and fiscal prudence.
According to a transcript published on the Web site of Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper, Mr. Castro said he could not “remember once saying anything critical of our friend Julio Casas, except that he is — as we Cubans say — stingy.”
General Casas was the only person authorized to overrule President Castro on economic issues, and he often did, Mr. Castro added, rejecting pet projects that would absorb scarce state money.
Julio Casas Regueiro was born in Mayarí Arriba, in eastern Cuba, on Feb. 16, 1936.
He enrolled at a business school, and as a student he began collaborating with the rebels who were trying to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
Mr. Casas went on to work as an accountant at a bank in Santiago de Cuba, but in June 1957 he left the city to help the revolutionary forces, eventually joining their ranks and fighting under Raúl Castro.
After the Castros swept to victory on Jan. 1, 1959, Mr. Casas joined the leadership of the National Revolutionary Police, with whom he fought against the Cuban exiles who took part in the United States-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
He moved that year to the armed forces, where he rose through the ranks to become deputy defense minister and chief of the military’s economic activities, including its sprawling business interests, in the late 1980s.
During a military career that was shaped by Fidel Castro’s cold war alliances and his interventions in Africa, he was trained at a Soviet military academy and served in Ethiopia in the late 1970s.
In February 2008, General Casas became the only person to fill the top military post since the 1959 revolution other than Raúl Castro, who had held the job for nearly 50 years before giving it up to succeed his brother as president. During the Communist Party’s sixth congress in April, General Casas was also elected to the 15-member Politburo.
He was cremated, according to his wishes, Granma said. The government declared three days of mourning, and his ashes will sit in state on Monday at the Defense Ministry on Havana’s vast Revolution Plaza.