By Rosa Tania Valdes
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban Economy Minister Marino Murillo has been replaced by his top deputy so he can concentrate on overseeing economic reforms expected to be approved at an upcoming Communist Party conference, the Cuban government said on Friday.
An official note read on state-run television said First Vice Minister Adel Izquierdo, 65, would take over the job in a move proposed by President Raul Castro.
Murillo will stay on as vice president in the Council of Ministers and as coordinator of the congress's Economic Policy Commission, where he will be in charge of "supervising the implementation of measures associated with the updating of the Cuban economic model," the statement said.
He "will have to concentrate his work after the approval of the economic and social policy guidelines of the party and the revolution," it said.
Murillo will "look after" the Economy Ministry and other "productive sectors," it said.
Murillo took center stage in December at a National Assembly meeting where he outlined proposed reforms to Cuba's Soviet-style economy and explained the inefficiencies and policy failures that made them necessary.
Afterwards, some had pegged him as future presidential material when Cuba's current, aging leadership moves on.
Whether Friday's change was a promotion or demotion was not clear, but there have been rumors of late that Murillo was on the hot seat for a slow start to reforms.
Castro wants to strengthen Cuba's troubled economy by expanding "non-state" retail and agriculture activities, making state-run companies more efficient and reducing government expenditures.
More than 170,000 self-employment licenses have been issued, but his plan to chop 500,000 workers from government payrolls by this month had to be put off indefinitely because of an assortment of problems, including worker resistance and a lack of alternative jobs.
The Communist Party congress, set for April 16-19, will be the first since 1997. Its primary task is to approve 32 pages of guidelines for Castro's reforms.
Castro, who officially succeeded older brother Fidel Castro as president three years ago, has said the reforms are needed to assure the survival of Cuban communism after current leaders are gone.
(Writing by Jeff Franks; Editing by Philip Barbara)