José Ramón Balaguer, 90, dies in Cuba
As health minister, Balaguer deployed thousands of Cuban doctors on missions to Venezuela and other poor countries in an attempt to win over hearts and minds. Balaguer passed away at the age of 90.
A cause of death was not specified in an official announcement carried on state television late on Friday night. The Pantheon of Veterans in Havana, where he was born, would be the first place his ashes will be honored, according to the obituary.
During the island’s economic crisis brought on by the fall of its former Soviet patrons, Balaguer, who had served as the Communist Party’s ideology head for a decade prior, was minister of health from 2004 to 2010.
When he was elected to the Communist Party’s Central Committee in April 2011, he served as the party’s international relations chief, while giving up his place on the more important Politburo.
Just six years older than Fidel Castro at that time (June 6, 1932), Jose Ramon Balaguer Cabrera played an essential part in the Cuban revolution as one of the “historicos,” or “historic ones,” of Cuban leadership.
The revolution that overthrew Fulgencio Batista in January 1959 brought Balaguer to power as a member of the revolutionary army.
Though trained as a physician, Balaguer spent most of his life dedicated to politics and government. For decades, he was Cuba’s closest ally in the Soviet Union, and as such, he was Cuba’s final ambassador there.
Balaguer had long been regarded as a staunch supporter of Fidel Castro’s orthodox ideology.
Balaguer was appointed head of the Communist Party’s doctrine and foreign policy divisions by Castro in 1992, during the economic and political crises that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Carlos Aldana was fired for “living above the people,” and Balaguer was hired to replace him.
On the Council of State, Fidel Castro presided over as president until he stepped down in February 2008 due to illness. His younger brother Raul was elected president of Cuba and eventually became the head of the Communist Party, a position he held until his death. In 2018, Raul Castro stepped down as president of Cuba and as head of the Communist Party of Cuba in 2021.
As a result of the elder Castro’s suggestion, Balaguer’s nomination as health minister was seen as a symptom of a rising ideological grip over important government positions.
Cuban Communist Party publication Granma noted his appointment as evidence of “the importance and intensification of efforts that the Cuban public health program needs right now both inside and outside the country.” In 2019, he announced his retirement from public service.