WASHINGTON — Cuba's new leader has placed two top army generals in key positions in his new government, giving the armed forces an even bigger grip on the civilian power structure.
The country's National Assembly also filled the government's No. 2 position — first vice president of the ruling Council of State — with 77-year-old José Ramón Machado Ventura, regarded as a very hard-line communist ideologue.
Retired CIA Cuba analyst Brian Latell said Sunday's changes in the Council of State — no doubt orchestrated by Raul Castro — resemble the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, when ``old men were replacing very old men.''
''This is a gerontocracy,'' Latell added, noting that Castro's inner circle is now dominated by people well into their 70s. Only 56-year-old Carlos Lage, who has been supervising the economy, represents a younger generation in the upper echelon of power.
The new names also indicate Castro was not likely to embark on the kind of profound political changes sought by the United States and other nations, said Latell, author of After Fidel, a biography on Raul Castro.
''But I wouldn't say anything about the economy,'' he added, predicting that Castro will be forced to undertake some changes to improve the island's dire economy.
The National Assembly on Sunday elected Castro as president of its Council of State, the government's top body. It also elected the council's first vice president, five second-line vice presidents and one secretary, as well as 22 rank-and-file members.
Machado Ventura's appointment was the biggest surprise of the day because he was seldom mentioned in the speculation about the makeup of the new council.
''He is perhaps the most orthodox ideologue of the . . . Communist Party,'' said Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, which lobbies Congress to keep the Cuba embargo in place. ``This means they are looking to fight back reform, and prioritize political discipline.''
There had been speculation that the first vice presidency would go to Lage, most closely identified with the market economic revisions that Cuba embraced in the early 1990s in order to overcome the collapse of Soviet subsidies.
Analysts say it is too soon to say if Machado Ventura's appointment means Raul Castro is backpedaling on the changes he has been talking about since he assumed power temporarily from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006. Other council changes suggested that some loyalists to Fidel, who has been opposing significant economic revisions, had lost ground.
Machado Ventura's recent duties have included making sure that communist ideology is integrated into education programs. Fidel Castro put him in charge of Cuba's education programs -- at home and abroad -- when he took sick in July 2006.
Also advancing were key members of the armed forces and top subordinates of Raul Castro, one of the world's longest-serving defense ministers.
Gen. Julio Casas Regueiro, 72, was promoted from rank-and-file member to one of the council's five vice presidencies, replacing Machado Ventura. Casas is vice minister of the armed forces and chairman of GAESA, the big military conglomerate that controls 60 percent of the economy, from hotels to domestic airlines.
''One is the right hand and the other is the left hand of Raúl Castro,'' said Frank Mora, a Cuba expert with the National Defense University, of the appointments of Machado Ventura and Casas.
Mora noted that another Castro ally and military figure, Gen. Alvaro López Miera, the army's chief of staff, was promoted to the council. He was the subject of a long interview in the official Granma newspaper recently.
And Gen. Leopoldo Cintra Frías, 66, a longtime Castro ally who has commanded the Western army -- one of three main military regions -- since 1990, was elected as a new rank-and-file member of the council.
''That enhances the military presence on the council,'' Mora said.
Overall, the Council of State underwent a large shake-up, with 13 new members. The freshmen group includes a black union leader and several representatives of women's movements.
Removed from the council was Otto Rivero Torres, member of a small group of young hard-liners loyal to Fidel Castro who are known as the Taliban. He is first secretary of the Communist Youth Union.
Also ousted was Pedro Ross Leal, the head of Cuba Workers' Central, the country's lone labor union, and 81-year-old Pedro Miret Prieto, vice president of the Council of Ministers, which is made up of Cabinet members.