A powerful son-in-law of Cuban ruler Raul Castro, in charge of the military enterprises that dominate the island’s economy, has been promoted to general despite recurring reports of tensions with his wife and brother-in-law.
Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, in his mid-50s and long identified as a colonel in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FAR, was identified as a brigadier general in a Jan. 29 report in the Web pages of Cubadefensa, a FAR publication.
Rodriguez heads the Enterprise Administration Group, or GAESA, the FAR’s business arm — the military controls 80 percent of the Cuban economy, including hotels, factories, restaurants and airlines — and sits on the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
He also is spearheading the $1 billion development project for the Port of Mariel west of Havana, Cuba’s strategic bet for reinserting itself into the global economy with the help of $800 million in financing from Brazil.
Military promotions in secretive Cuba are seldom announced, but Cubadefensa revealed his new rank in a brief report saying he attended a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the military-run Almacenes Universales S.A.
Rodriguez, married to Castro’s oldest daughter, Deborah Castro Espin, is widely viewed as one of the most powerful and ambitious men in Cuba — smart, arrogant, frugal and a highly effective administrator of GAESA.
His promotion to general supported speculation that he might succeed Castro eventually because he holds a high military rank, knows the economy, comes from a good family and married into an even more important one. His father, Maj. Gen. Guillermo Rodriguez del Pozo, was one of the Fidel Castro guerrillas who seized power in 1959.
“This means that he remains in contention, despite what people have been saying about his troubles,” said Luis Dominguez, a Miami exile who first reported Rodriguez’s promotion in his blog, Cuba al Descubierto — Cuba Uncovered.
Retired CIA analyst Brian Latell, who authored two books on Cuba, said the new rank is commensurate with the general’s responsibilities at the very profitable GAESA. “I would say he earned his star fair and square,” he said.
But Rodriguez also has been reported to have clashed often with Deborah and her brother, Alejandro Castro Espin, 48, an Interior Ministry colonel who is Castro’s chief intelligence adviser and runs a tough anti-corruption campaign.
“He is too openly ambitious for Alejandro, and there’s always been tension there,” said a Havana man who has friends in the Castro clan. He asked to remain anonymous in order to speak frankly.
Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel in 2006, has one son and three daughters: Deborah, who is about 52; Mariela, 51, a sexologist married to an Italian; and Nilsa, the youngest. Castro’s wife, Vilma Espin, died in 2007 after a long illness.
Journalist Carlos Cabrera Pérez, writing in a Miami blog in January 2013, reported that Deborah Castro Espin had filed for divorce at the end of 2012, alleging quarrels and infidelities by Rodriguez.
Her decision to seek a divorce came after the couple quarreled, Alejandro Castro Espin came to his sister’s defense and the two men clashed “with their hands,” Cabrera Perez wrote, citing unidentified sources close to the family.
Juan Juan Almeida, who had close ties to the Raul Castro family before he moved to Miami, wrote in a column last month published by Radio/TV Marti that Rodriguez’s star had fallen because of the family problems.
Castro “will send, or already sent, the father of his grandchildren to carry out a mission in Angola, a dangerous land for a Cuban in disgrace,” Almeida wrote.
Rodriguez is the father of Castro’s favorite grandson, Raul Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, who is the Cuban leader’s closest bodyguard and aide. The grandson is known as “The Crab” because he was born with six fingers on each hand.
Dominguez said the general has a brother Gustavo, 55, who left Cuba for treatment of a brain tumor and now lives in southwestern Florida with his wife, Maria Victoria Balius Rodriguez. She has a daughter from a previous marriage to a son of Fidel Castro, Alexis Castro Soto del Valle.
Dominguez also said that the United Nations report on a Cuban weapons shipment to North Korea last summer that violated an arms embargo on the Asian country showed the shipment was loaded abroad a freighter at the Port of Mariel.
The U.N. report noted that the ongoing Mariel expansion program was led by Almacenes Universales — part of GAESA’s holdings and the company whose 20th anniversary celebration Rodriguez attended.