José Ramón Balaguer, “historic” Cuban official, dies at 90

HAVANA — José Ramón Balaguer, a longtime member of Cuba’s communist leadership who, as health minister, sent thousands of island doctors on missions to win hearts and minds in Venezuela and developing countries around the world, died at the age of 90.

An official statement read on state television Friday night reported the death, although no cause was given. He said his ashes would be honored at the Veterans Hall of Fame in Havana before being taken to eastern Cuba, where he was born.

Balaguer served as health minister from 2004 to 2010 after a dozen years as the Communist Party’s ideology chief, working to ensure adherence to Marxist principles as the island went through an economic crisis caused by the collapse of its former Soviet benefactors.

He was elected to the Communist Party’s Central Committee in April 2011, as head of international relations for the governing body, although he gave up his seat in the more powerful Politburo, which he had held for decades. .

Born on June 6, 1932, in Guantanamo, José Ramon Balaguer Cabrera was only six years younger than Fidel Castro and an important member of the oldest generation of Cuban leaders – known as “historicos” or “historics” for their roles. in the Cuban revolution.

Balaguer served in the rebel army that catapulted Castro to power with the revolution’s triumph over Fulgencio Batista in January 1959.

Although trained as a doctor, Balaguer spent most of his life devoted to politics and government. He was Cuba’s last ambassador to the Soviet Union, the island’s closest ally for decades.

Balaguer has long been considered an orthodox ideologue intensely loyal to Fidel Castro.

During the economic and political crisis that followed the Soviet break-up, it was Balaguer whom Castro chose in 1992 to be the head of the Communist Party’s ideology and foreign policy divisions. Balaguer replaced Carlos Aldana, who was sacked for “living above the people”.

Balaguer also served on the country’s supreme governing body, the Council of State, which Fidel Castro led as president before resigning in February 2008 due to illness. Castro’s younger brother, Raul, replaced him as president and was later named leader of the Communist Party. Raul Castro retired as president in 2018 and as party leader in 2021.

Balaguer’s appointment as health minister, made at the suggestion of the elder Castro, was a surprise that signaled growing ideological control over key government posts.

At the time of his appointment, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said the change demonstrated “the importance and intensification of the efforts that Cuba’s public health program needs at this time, both internally and internationally. ‘outside the country’.

He retired from public service in 2019.

ABC News

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