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Cuba defence minister Casas dies

Cuba's defence minister General Julio Casas Regueiro, an accountant who fought in the revolution, has died of heart failure at the age of 75, according to state television.

He is the most important figure from the revolution to die since Juan Almeida Bosque in 2009, and his death is likely to focus renewed attention on the fragility of the island's ageing leadership, many of whom are in their 80s.

The accountant used his training to run the military's lucrative economic enterprises for two decades before becoming defence minister.

State television announced three days of national mourning in honour of Mr Casas, who was also a vice president of the Council of State, Cuba's supreme governing body.

Mr Casas served under Raul Castro in the rebel army that ultimately pushed out the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in early 1959. He later ran the financial operations of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

"In the past 50 years I don't remember ever criticising comrade Julio Casas, save that, as we Cubans say, he's very cheap," Raul Castro joked in February 2008, after he was elected to replace his ailing brother Fidel Castro as president.

Among the first things the younger Castro did in the top job was to name Mr Casas as defence minister, the post the new leader had held for nearly half a century under Fidel Castro.

In April, Mr Casas was also elected a member of the Communist Party's powerful 15-member Politburo, which is led by Raul Castro.

Mr Casas's financial discipline was the source "of his successes on the economic front, among other activities" in the armed forces, Raul Castro said. Mr Casas also effectively led the ministry in the 19 months that Raul Castro was Cuba's interim president after Fidel Castro underwent emergency intestinal surgery.

Mr Casas's death is sure to renew questions about the health of the rest of the Cuban leadership. Raul Castro turned 80 this year, and number two Jose Ramon Machado Ventura is the same age. Fidel Castro, who has retired from all public roles, is 85 and has not made a public appearance since April.


From Belfast Telegraph