Cuban President Fidel Castro has tightened the reins on his government, taking direct charge of the ministries of the armed forces, interior, public health and culture as part of a major attempt to pull Cuba out of its worst economic slump since the 1959 revolution.
Other groups of ministries have been brought under the more direct control of several of Cuba's vice presidents, according to informed sources and dispatches from the official Prensa Latina news agency in Havana.
The shake-up underlined Cuba's continued vulnerability to the economic ills afflicting most of the world, despite massive infusions of Soviet economic aid, now estimated by the U.S. State Department at about $8 million a day.
It was not immediately clear how the shifts would affect the power of Castro's younger brother Raul within the government. Raul Castro is first vice president of the Council of Ministers, but he was also minister of the armed forces. The Prensa Latina dispatch said he will now "collaborate with [Fidel] in this responsibility."
The reports from Havana indicated the removal of the ministers of basic industries, the sugar industry, agriculture, light industry, fishing, steel, foreign commerce, justice and education, as well as the state council for work and social security and the national tourism institute.
Some of these ministries are apparently being consolidated as new, more unified administrations, while others will remain single entities presided over by new appointees. All, however, will be headed by high-level members of Castro's inner circle from the powerful Communist Party Central Committee, which remains unchanged.
The most massive reorganization of Cuba's government since the revolution comes in the wake of more than a year of declining economic progress and growing attempts by Castro and others to begin public criticism by the government of the government to defuse popular dissent that might become unmanageable.
In a major speech on Nov. 30 in Santiago de Cuba, Raul Castro coldly summarized the economic crisis facing his country and some of the major reasons for it, placing much of the responsibility on the government itself.
"We are being beaten by a growing inflation which causes the prices of the products we have to acquire in this area to increase day by day at the same time that the price of our sugar [Cuba's main export] has remained very low," said Raul Castro.
Agricultural diseases have damaged a fourth of the most recent tobacco harvest, while a rot has afflicted the sugar cane fields.
Foreign currency reserves are down, Raul Castro said, and as a result economic growth, which is already low, will be further slowed.
Low levels of production and a heavy emphasis on export has resulted in shortages of many basic foodstuffs. Medicines are not in good supply and transportation services are notoriously deficient, Raul Castro noted in the speech.
But in line with the government's recent willingness to admit its own shortcomings, Raul Castro carefully warned against blaming the U.S. economic blockade -- long a favorite scapegoat -- as the principal cause of Cuba's economic woes.
Instead, he blamed Cuba's administration itself and some of its workers for "lack of discipline and control, irresponsibility, personal conveniences, negligence and cronvism, which . . . generates justified anger in broad sectors of the population."
Castro's younger brother criticized apparently significant numbers of laborers and their supervisors who lie about the number of hours they work and falsify production records.
Such "tricks", Raul Castro said, are prevalent in agriculture and evident in "industry, transportation services, ship repairs and many other places. . . . The buddy-buddy system and leaks of funds sometimes are rampant."
He asserted that "discipline must be restored immediately in all areas," and added, in a remark that may have foreshadowed the reshuffling of the government: "To to this one must start with one's own behavior and behavior at the top."
The ministers of the interior, transport and public health were the first to go last month.
Though discontent over the economy was clearly a primary factor in the restructuring of the government, yesterday's announcements in Havana alluded more broadly to "internal problems in recent months [that] reflect administrative deficiencies and show symptons of weakness in the discipline of some working sectors."
In what is widely thought an effort to suppress the recent distribution of anti-Castro leaflets, vigilante patrols reportedly have been increased in Havana over the last few weeks, with unarmed members of the neighborhood Committees for the Defense of the Revolution visible on most street corners at night.
Police have been boarding buses to check identity cards, examining packages carried by pedestrians and stopping cars at night, according to several reports.
The crackdown also is apparently intended to round up black-marketeers, common criminals and vagrants, while at the same time improving the discipline of the police.