Juan Almeida Bosque - hero of the revolution

Autumn 2009

February 17, 1927 - September 11, 2009

Comandante, veteran of Moncada and the Granma landing,dies aged 82

From the early days of the revolution, Juan Almeida Bosque, became a symbol to Afro-Cubans of a change from Cuba’s discriminatory past.

A descendant of African slaves, Juan Almeida Bosque was born in a poor area of Havana on17 February 1927. Forced to take construction jobs as a child to help his family, he none the less managed to gain a place studying law at the University of Havana in his 20s..

It was here, in March 1952, that he met Fidel Castro, also studying to be an attorney, and joined the fight against the Batista dictatorship.

A year later, on July 26, 1953, Almeida was part of the first direct attack on the dictatorship. Together with the Castro brothers (Raul and Fidel), he and 160 others attacked the Moncada barracks in the easten city of Santiago. Although the attack failed; more than 60 were killed and many captured, tortured and jailed, it launched the revolutionary battle that was to triumph with the revolution in 1959.

For his part in the attack, Almeida, along with both Castro brothers, was in imprisoned in the notorious Modelo garrison on the Isla de la Juventud (see colour pages 5-7 for a full history of the Modelo) until all the Moncada rebels were amnestied in May 1955.

Regrouping in Mexico, Almeida was one of 80 revolutionaries who sailed to Cuba with the Castro brothers and ‘Che’Guevara in December 1956 on board a rickety motor boat, the Granma, to launch the revolution. He was also one of only a dozen who survived the rough, week-long crossing and the initial ambush and battles with Batista’s forces.

Soon after their landing, vastly outnumbered, a Batista officer shouted to them to give up. Almeida reportedly yelled to Che “Aqui no se rinde nadie!” [“Nobody here surrenders!”], a slogan that became one of the most famous and lasting of the revolution and can be seen on posters around Havana to this day.

For his bravery, Almeida became the only black commander of the revolutionaries who, as head of the Santiago Column of the Revolutionary Army, helped force Batista to flee the country on 1 January 1959, leaving Almeida, with Che Guevara and Castro,to enterHavana unopposed.

Shorty after this victory, Almeida was named a General of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba and wielded significant influence in the post revolutionary administration. In 1976 he was elected to the National Assembly of People’s Power, one of a series of important posts he occupied. In 1998, he was given the rare honorary title “Hero of the Republic of Cuba.”

Until he announced the scaling down of his political career owing to heart problems in 2003, he was one of the most visible members of the Cuban government, often appearing alongside the President at public events or diplomatic parties, and regularly representing Cuba at meetings abroad.

“He was a father of Cuba. Everyone liked and respected him,” said Luiz Vizcaino, a retired Havana resident commented on hearing of his death.

To younger Cubans, and in the Spanish-language music world, Almeida was best known as a composer of bolero songs - he wrote more than 300 of them - many of them love songs or ballads about his days as a guerrilla in the Sierra Maestra. Songs such as “Qué le pasa a esa mujer?” [“What’s going on with that woman?”] or “La Lupe” (about a girl called Lupe) - can regularly be heard on radio stations throughout Latin America or in Spain.

“I listened with pleasure to some of his songs,” noted Fidel Castro, “especially that one of impassioned emotion which, in response to the homeland’s call for ‘victory or death’, bids farewell to human dreams.”

A Cuban government statement tribute to his life said: “Almeida, who died last Friday from a heart and respiratory failure, has passed to history not only as a consummated guerrilla fighter, a just military and political leader, and great speaker, but also as a sensitive creator” who will “live on forever in the hearts and minds of his compatriots.”

A national day of mourning was declared on Sunday 13 September 2009 and all flags were flown at half-mast. Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz, accompanied by two of Almeida’s grandchildren, headed the homage at the Jose Marti Memorial in Havana’s Revolution Square of Havana. He was followed by other government and state leaders, all of them carrying a rose for the emblematic hero.

The line of members of the public who went to the square in Havana to pay tribute to Almeida was endless.

Likewise, the residents of the mountain town where the 3rd Eastern Front was founded and of which Almeida was the founder and leader, were shaken by the news of his death. Cuban and 26 of July Movement flags were hoisted at half-mast in offices, while in many homes the national emblem could be seen waving outside.

Meanwhile, in the Antonio Maceo Revolution Square in Santiago de Cuba city, thousands of people marched by a large portrait of the Commander of the Revolution accompanied by floral wreaths and a guard of honor.

At Almeida’s own request he will be buried in a mausoleum with guerilla fighters in the Sierra Maestra mountains where fought in during the revolution.

At the time of his death on September 11, Juan Almeida Bosque was one of only three surviving Commanders of the Revolution. The other two are the revolutionary veterans Guillermo Garcia, 81, and Ramiro Valdes, aged 77.

“I was a privileged witness to his exemplary conduct for more than half a century of heroic and victorious resistance, in the struggle against the internationalist missions and the resistance to the imperialist blockade,” Castro said after Almeida’s death. “Let us not say that Almeida has died! He is more alive today than ever!”

Cuba Solidarity Campaign tribute

Juan Almeida Bosque (1927-2009)

Hero of Cuba

On behalf of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the UK we would like to offer our deepest sympathy to the family and comrades of Juan Almeida Bosque - a true Hero of Cuba.

We recognise the vital part that Juan Almeida Bosque played in the Cuban Revolution from the early attacks on the Batista dictatorship, the assault on the Moncada Barracks and his leadership in the battles of the successful Revolution. As a Black commander in the rebel army he stands as an important symbol of the unity of the Cuban people. We also recognise his contribution to the rich culture of Cuba with the 300 songs he composed and the many books that he wrote.

Juan Almeida Bosque has left a lasting legacy that will continue to inspire all our efforts on behalf of the just cause that is Cuba.

Keith Sonnet, Chairperson

Rob Miller, Director

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