HAVANA, July 1st Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, the most powerful Cuban general who controlled most of the island’s economy and was set to become a key player in a future political transition, died suddenly Friday morning, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said.
Rodríguez López-Calleja, 62, died of a cardiorespiratory arrest early Friday, Granma said in a two-graph report.
The general was the head of a company group of the Cuban Revolutionary Forces known as GAESA, controlling much of Cuba’s tourism, estate development, supermarkets, gas stations and many other profitable businesses.
He amassed enormous power as a former son-in-law of Raúl Castro and was seen by many as one of the significant figures in what would happen next in Cuba after Castro, who is currently 91, dies.
“General Luis Alberto, a 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,” Granma said.
He was sanctioned in 2020 by the U.S. government for running GAESA, the economic arm of the Cuban military.
Rodríguez López-Calleja was born in Villa Clara, a central province, on January 19, 1960. According to his official biography, he was trained in the former Soviet Union and sent as a counterintelligence officer to Angola in 1990.
But he was later tapped to work for what would become Grupo de Administración Empresarial de las Fuerzas Armadas, GAESA, the largest and most profitable business conglomerate on the island, with fingers 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 offshore companies moving the government’s money around the world to conduct businesses and skirt the U.S. economic embargo. His brother, Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja, is the director or owner of several of these shady enterprises, an investigation by McClatchy and the Miami Herald showed.
For many years, the general was a shadowy figure, quietly expanding his control over the island’s economy. He reportedly married and divorced one of Raúl Castro’s daughters, Deborah Castro Espín, with whom he had two children.
Despite the divorce, he carried tremendous influence in the Cuban government, which in recent years also reflected in more public appearances and high-profile political posts.
The general’s attempt to consolidate power became more urgent last year as Raúl Castro approached his 90th birthday.
In April last year, he got a seat on the Communist Party Politburo. In September, he was identified in state media as a “special adviser to the president” Miguel Díaz-Canel. And without much explanation, he was made a member of the National Assembly in late October, representing Remedios, a town in the central province of Santa Clara.
His death leaves even more uncertainty about a power transition when the younger of the Castro brothers die. With his death, disappears one of the possible challengers to the rule of Cuba’s handpicked president Miguel Díaz-Canel.
Díaz-Canel, a prolific Twitter user, has yet to comment on the general’s death.