Cuban economy minister leading public reform drive

Thu Dec 23, 2010 2:34pm GMT

Even though he has been in high-ranking positions for some years, Murillo's background is not well known and little public information is available about him.

Official websites describe him as an economist who has "been linked to the economic sphere for more than 20 years." He was previously Internal Trade Minister, Deputy Economy Minister and an auditor for the Food Industry Ministry.

Cuba expert Arturo Lopez-Levy at the University of Denver said Murillo worked his way up through the ranks of the government, understands well how it functions and is in synch with the prevailing opinions inside it.

"His advantage is a real knowledge of the system from inside and that he is part of a group of cadres with experience and a very integrated way of thinking," Lopez-Levy said.

Those ties to the party consensus serve him well now, Lopez-Levy said, but could become "a handicap when the time comes for the introduction of different policies and ideas at a second stage of reforms."

Murillo's dominant role at the National Assembly contrasted sharply with his generally low-profile predecessors, but was no surprise to a foreign businessman in Havana who dealt with him at the Internal Trade Ministry.

His style, said the businessman who asked not to be named, was to be "burly, impetuous and outspoken."

When Raul Castro finally took center stage on Saturday at the assembly meeting, he portrayed the ongoing reforms as a life or death matter for the future of Cuban socialism.

Cuban leaders had to overcome ideological taboos and accept private business as an important part of the future, he said.

Murillo agreed, but vowed the reforms would not devolve into an economy of "chinchales," or very small, badly-run businesses. "This is an economy where the efficient socialist enterprise will prevail," he said. (Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Jeff Franks and Jackie Frank)

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