Veteran Cuban central bank chief steps down

Cuba announced the resignation of its veteran central bank chief on Thursday as the communist-ruled state grapples with a deepening economic crisis.

Francisco Soberon Valdes, who held the cabinet-level post for nearly 15 years and shaped the Caribbean country's monetary policy, was stepping down with immediate effect, a government statement said.

Soberon was one of the last holdovers from the government of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who retired due to health problems in February 2008 and handed the presidency over to younger brother Raul Castro.

The resignation comes as Cuba's state-run economy has been hard hit by the global financial crisis and a drop in revenues from tourism and nickel, its leading export.

Soberon was replaced at his "own request" by Ernesto Medina, who has served as president of the state-run International Finance Bank since 2003.

A foreign banker with operations in Cuba said Madina was "a capable career banker" who could be expected to follow Raul Castro's policies.

Soberon's departure had been expected in Cuban financial circles for quite some time due to rumors he was at odds with the new government's top economic advisers.

The government has cut investment plans and local budgets in recent months and ordered state companies to reduce imports, along with other belt-tightening measures triggered by a foreign exchange shortage.

Citing the liquidity crunch, many foreign businesses have complained of long delays in transferring money abroad from local bank accounts, even as the government pushes official creditors to restructure debt.

[Source: Reuters, Havana, 04Jun09]

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