Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, the most powerful Cuban general who controlled most of the island’s economy and a likely key player in a future political transition, died suddenly on Friday morning, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported.
Rodríguez López-Calleja, 62, died early this Friday due to cardiorespiratory arrest, Granma reported in a two-paragraph note.
The division general was the head of the Cuban Revolutionary Forces business group known as GAESA, which controlled much of Cuba’s tourism, real estate development, supermarkets, gas stations, and many other profitable businesses.
He amassed enormous power as the former son-in-law of Raúl Castro and was seen by many as one of the important figures in what would happen next in Cuba after the death of Castro, who is now 91 years old.
“General Luis Alberto, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Party and deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power, has a brilliant record of services to the Homeland and the Cuban Revolution,” said Granma.
The general was sanctioned in 2020 by the United States government for directing GAESA, the economic arm of the Cuban army.
The money man in Cuba
Rodríguez López-Calleja was born in Villa Clara, in the center of the country, on January 19, 1960. According to his official biography, he was trained in the former Soviet Union and was sent as a counterintelligence officer to Angola in 1990.
But then he was chosen to work in what would become the Armed Forces Business Administration Group, GAESA, the largest and most profitable business conglomerate on the island, with tentacles in the lucrative sectors of tourism, finance, international trade , shipping and construction.
He became its director in 1996 and was its president at the time of his death.
But the general was also linked to a network of companies offshore who move government money around the world to conduct business and circumvent the US economic embargo. His brother, Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja, is the director or owner of several of these shady companies, an investigation by McClatchy and the Miami Herald found.
For many years, the general was a shadowy figure, quietly expanding his control over the island’s economy. According to reports, he married and divorced one of Raúl Castro’s daughters, Deborah Castro Espín, with whom he had two children.
Despite the divorce, he had tremendous influence in the Cuban government, which in recent years was also reflected in more public appearances and high-profile political positions.
The general’s attempt to consolidate power became more urgent last year as Castro approached 90 years of age.
In April last year, he obtained a seat in the Political Bureau of the Communist Party. In September he was identified in state media as “special adviser to the president” Miguel Díaz-Canel. And without further explanation, he was appointed deputy to the National Assembly at the end of October, representing Remedios, a town in the central province of Santa Clara.
His death leaves even more uncertainty about a transition of power when the youngest of the Castro brothers dies. With his death, one of the possible challengers to Díaz-Canel’s authority disappears.
Díaz-Canel, a prolific Twitter user, has not yet commented on the general’s death.
This is a developing story. Will be updated.
This story was originally published on July 1, 2022 10:00 a.m.