(Bloomberg) -- Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja, one of Cuba’s most powerful people and a confidant of the Castro family, died on Friday, casting a pall over the sprawling state-run business empire that he controlled.
He died of a heart attack at 62 years old, according to the official Granma newspaper.
Rodriguez, a military general who was sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2020, had been the executive president of the Grupo de Administracion Empresarial, or GAESA, a military-run conglomerate that controls banks, retail outlets, coffee shops, money-exchange operations, pharmaceutical labs and most of the island’s major hotels. He was profiled in the November 2015 issue of Bloomberg Markets.
Read More: Want to do Business in Cuba? Prepare to Partner with the General
Rodriguez wielded immense political power on the communist island. He was seen as a confidant of former President Raul Castro, 91, and was his son-in-law for some time. On top of his business dealing at GAESA, he was a member of the politburo of Cuba’s Communist Party -- the only legal political party -- and a representative of the National Assembly.
GAESA is thought to control as much as 80% of Cuba’s economy, said Emilio Morales, the president of Miami-based Havana Consulting Group, a think-tank that researches the communist island.
“This is a watershed moment,” he said, calling Rodriguez “the owner of the money” in Cuba.
His sudden death at a relatively young age triggers questions about how the business empire that he ran will now operate. The big issue is who will take his place, said Gregory Biniowsky, a Canadian lawyer and consultant who has lived in Cuba for 30 years.
“GAESA is a major economic player in the Cuban economy -- it’s a massive holding company that can’t go leaderless for very long,” he said. “There are probably a number of people in the military who will want that position.”
Rodriguez’s death comes as Cuba’s economy is being battered by the global pandemic and shock waves from the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Shortages of food and fuel were also drivers of unprecedented protests last year.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
BNN Bloomberg Picks
Rhine River gets too shallow in another crisis for European energy
How rising rates are making GICs more attractive for investors
Eric Nuttall's Top Picks: August 12, 2022
Mastercard faces retailer backlash over instalment payments
What to know about insurance in 'summer of travel hell'
Rubik's cube is going digital as Spin Master buys out game studio