..... experts agree that Lage's heightened profile is a sign of a Cuba to come: one under Raúl, where an economic overhaul could be welcomed.
Once on the edges of the Cuban limelight, Lage has represented Cuba at most international gatherings, from presidential summits to inaugurations, and recently headed a top-level delegation to Caracas to sign a string of agreements with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Cuba's top ally and financial backer.
''Lage is key in all this,'' said Wayne Smith, a former chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana and critic of U.S. Cuba policy. ``Lage had been sort of put in the back seat, because he wanted to move ahead with economic reforms and Fidel didn't. Raúl comes in and makes Lage his right-hand man. He's been brought out of the closet, so to speak.''
``The fact that . . . these two hated guys could come together and hold hands tells you something: in a moment of uncertainty, they will come together.''
Although experts wonder whether Raúl Castro named Valdés so he could keep his enemies close, they note that it nevertheless is a sign of closing ranks.
The lower profile is important, because Pérez Roque is a key member of Fidel's inner circle. He's among the hard-liners dubbed Talibans for their strict allegiance to communism.
Also playing lesser roles in the past few months have been Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly, and Young Communists leaders Hassan Pérez and Otto Rivero, Cuba watchers said.