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Cuba dismisses its transportation and sugar ministers, citing professional mistakes

HAVANA (AP) — President Raul Castro has fired Cuba's transportation minister for professional mistakes and replaced the head of the Sugar Ministry after he admitted incompetence, the latest in a growing series of leadership shake-ups.

A statement read during the nightly newscast Monday said Jorge Luis Sierra was removed as transportation minister, a role he got in February 2009. Sierra also forfeited his post as a vice president of the Council of Ministers, a governing body that serves as Cuba's Cabinet — although its vice presidents are not considered vice presidents of the country.

Army Gen. Antonio Enrique Luzon replaced Sierra on the council, among many military leaders to be promoted within the government. Raul Castro served as defense minister for nearly five decades before taking over as president — first temporarily, then permanently — after his older brother, Fidel, underwent intestinal surgery in 2006.

The new Transportation Minister is Cesar Ignacio Arocha.

Sierra lost his jobs due to "errors committed while in the act of carrying out his duties," the statement said, but no further details was given. A government spokeswoman said she could not add anything.

Sugar Minister Luis Manuel Avila also was dismissed, but the newscast said that "he asked for his removal, recognizing the deficiencies in his work." Orlando Selso was named to the post.

On March 23, Cuba replaced Attorney General Juan Escalona Reguera, who fought under Fidel and Raul Castro in the rebel army that toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year's Day 1959. Health problems were cited as the reason.

That move came less than two weeks after the government abruptly dismissed another veteran revolutionary, Rogelio Acevedo, who had overseen its airlines and airports and as a teenager fought alongside the Castros and Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

No formal reason was given for Acevedo's removal, but an opinion piece posted on a state Internet site by a prominent Cuban academic referred to rumors that Acevedo has been under house arrest for corruption. Cuban-American exile websites in the U.S. have said a large amount of cash was found hidden at Acevedo's house and he is suspected of operating a private airline, among other things. The government has not commented on the allegations.

Monday's changes also come following the death of Roberto Baudrand, a top Chilean executive working in Cuba. He was found dead in his Havana apartment last month after being detained by Cuban authorities investigating his company, which is owned by a businessman who was a close friend of Fidel Castro.

Cuba's government said that Baudrand died of a lack of oxygen and that unidentified drugs and alcohol were found in his blood. It did not say whether the death was considered a suicide.

Baudrand, 59, was general manager of Alimentos Rio Zaza SA and served as liaison in Cuba for Max Marambio, the former head bodyguard of Chilean socialist President Salvador Allende, who was toppled in a 1973 military coup. The company makes "Tropical Island" brand juices and other food products sold in Cuban hard-currency stores catering to tourists and other foreigners.

Rio Zaza is jointly owned by Cuba's government and Marambio, but has been shuttered as part of an investigation by Cuba's government. Fidel Castro has not commented on the case, even though he and Marambio have been friends for decades.