Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Thursday, 21 February 2008

Profile: Cuba's Carlos Lage

By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

Carlos Lage, at a summit in Caracas, Venezuela, on 26 January
Mr Lage's suit and tie are a far cry from Fidel Castro's military fatigues

Cuba's de facto prime minister, Vice-President Carlos Lage, is tipped by some to play a greater political role after Fidel Castro's retirement.

Looking more like a bank manager than the right-hand man of a communist revolutionary leader, he has gradually become Cuba's face abroad, standing in for the ailing "Comandante" at Latin American summits and other foreign forums.

A doctor who worked his way up to the heights of Cuba's Communist Party and government, he has been described as a model child of the revolution.

If you are going to move from the historic generation, then he is absolutely a logical choice
Professor Antoni Kapcia
Nottingham University

He is also credited with doing much to rescue the economy in the 1990s after the collapse of Cuba's main economic partner, the USSR.

And for the Cuban revolution's enemies, the quiet 56-year-old may be seen as someone they can do business with, simply because he is not a Castro.

Doctor and manager

Born in Havana on 15 October 1951, Carlos Lage Davila trained as a paediatrician and spent time in Ethiopia as part of a Cuban medical contingent.

A leader of both the Federation of University Students and the Young Communist Union, he joined the Communist Party in 1976 and entered its Central Committee in 1980.

He accompanied Fidel Castro on foreign visits in the 1980s and early 1990s and was entrusted with drafting reforms to restructure the centralised economy.

Encouraged small businesses, more flexible land tenure, foreign investment and foreign tourism in 1990s
Oversaw legalisation of US dollar in 1993 (some restrictions re-imposed in 2004)
Negotiated 2004 deal with Venezuela to obtain cheap oil in return for Cuban medical aid

Latterly, as secretary of the Council of Ministers, he has effectively run the government, making him prime minister in all but name.

"I think the Cuban public tends to see him as a very efficient operator," says Antoni Kapcia, a professor at the UK's Nottingham University who has been researching Cuban politics for more than 30 years.

"Above all, people remember him as the man who oversaw economic reforms."

A more recent success was negotiating the oil-for-doctors deal with Venezuela.

Brian Latell, a former head of the CIA's Cuba division and author of After Fidel: Raul Castro And the Future of Cuba's Revolution, agrees he might make an effective leader.

"As in whatever few other strange places that continue to describe themselves as communist, the new Cuban brand will be pragmatic and flexible," he notes.

Foreign appeal

Neither flamboyant nor given to long speeches, Carlos Lage is so different from the charismatic Fidel Castro "that he is almost welcome", says Mr Kapcia.

Raul Castro (bottom right) talks to Carlos Lage (left) during a march with torches on 28 January in Havana
Mr Lage (far left) is seen as a close ally of Raul Castro (in uniform)

Mr Latell observes that popularity, in any case, is hardly a prerequisite for Cuban leaders.

"Certainly Fidel was, for a time, and still with many," he says.

"But all the others, [Fidel Castro's brother] Raul included, do not operate on the basis of personal popularity. This is a dictatorship."

Outside Cuba, at least within Latin America, Mr Lage is said to enjoy much respect as a diplomat.

"He is seen as a very urbane, mild-mannered, sophisticated politician who gets on well with people," Mr Kapcia says.

The fact he is not Fidel or Raul Castro means he could be acceptable to the US should Washington initiate low-level talks, he suggests.

Carlos Lage Davila has already shown he is capable of handling the day to day affairs of government, particularly the economy
Arnaldo Coro Antich, BBC News website reader, Havana

Anti-Castro exiles view him as someone who has "generally stayed outside the repression mechanisms", according to Andro Nodarse Leon of the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation.

"He is more of a party guy than a state police guy - unlike those whose hands are tainted with blood," says Mr Leon, who grew up in Havana in the 1980s.

Exiles who would never talk to the Castro brothers, he believes, might speak to someone like Mr Lage if they thought it could lead to an end to communist rule.

'Logical choice'

Yet, as Mr Kapcia points out, Carlos Lage is very much the Castro brothers' man.

"He is seen by the Cuban leadership as a safe pair of hands in terms of keeping the basics of the system together but making the necessary reforms," he says.

"He is also quite broadminded and quite willing to adapt, and the nature of the Cuban system is that it does adapt remarkably well.

"So if you are going to move from the historic generation, then he is absolutely a logical choice."

For Brian Latell, the chief measure of Mr Lage's success may simply be "the fact that he has survived for many years in very high office without alienating either Castro brother - quite an accomplishment".

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