By Daniel Trotta
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban Interior Minister Abelardo Colome, a career military man who helped bring the Interior Ministry closer to the armed forces following a purge in 1989, resigned due to failing health, Cuba said on Monday.
Colome, 76, commonly known by his nickname Furry, was also one of Cuba's vice presidents and part of the 14-member Politburo, the highest authority within the ruling Communist Party.
The Interior Ministry is in charge on internal security and has a central role in clamping down on dissent in Cuba, a one-party state that routinely detains political opponents. Cuba considers the dissidents a tiny minority who are paid subordinates of the U.S. government.
First Deputy Interior Minister Carlos Fernandez was promoted to replace Colome, according to an official statement read on state television.
Fernandez was one of the army generals who came with Colome from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry in 1989, when the Interior Ministry was purged of top leaders following the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa on drug trafficking charges.
The execution of Ochoa, a popular war hero who was posted to the Interior Ministry at the time, was shocking. The Interior Minister at the time, Jose Abrantes, was jailed in the scandal and replaced by Colome. Abrantes died in jail in 1991.
Colome held the rank of general and was a founder of the Communist Party half a century ago. He joined Fidel Castro's rebels in 1955, four years before they overthrew a pro-U.S. government, and holds the honorific title Hero of the Republic.
Colome had been a one of Cuba's vice presidents on the Council of State. Several officials hold the title of vice president on either the Council of State or Council of Ministers, ranking just below President Raul Castro and First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.In 2013, Colome offered his resignation as vice president of the Council of State to allow for the promotion of younger leaders, the statement said. The statement did not mention his position on the all-important Politburo. Changes in that leadership body could be expected at a party congress in April.
In a letter to Castro, Colome said he was obliged to step down because of health.
"Dear Raul, of my 76 years, I have dedicated 60 of them to revolution. As long as I live, I will continue to be a soldier at its service and member of the Communist Party," he said in his resignation letter.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)