Friday, September 25, 2009

Juan Almeida (1927-2009): Cuba Honors a 'Commander of the Revolution'

JUAN ALMEIDA - 1927-2009: Cuba honors a ‘Commander of the Revolution’

By Deirdre Griswold
Published Sep 23, 2009 6:58 PM

Juan Almeida Bosque, who recently died in Cuba at the age of 82, was one of the original band of revolutionary heroes who stormed the heavens and brought down the brutal dictatorship of U.S. lackey Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959. That alone guarantees that he will always be remembered with enormous affection and reverence, not only in Latin America but also around the world.

Almeida was born into poverty in Havana. From the age of 11, he worked as a bricklayer to help support his family. He joined forces with Fidel Castro soon after Batista took power through a coup d’├ętat in 1952. At that time, Fidel was a law student at the University of Havana, where he formed a group opposing the dictatorship.

Almeida participated in the 1953 attack on the Moncada army barracks that alerted the world to the existence of a revolutionary organization in Cuba. While the attack failed and those who survived spent two years in jail, it fired the imagination of countless young people. Fidel’s immortal speech to the court, “History Will Absolve Me,” won recruits for a second try at overthrowing the dictatorship in 1956.

This time they went from Mexico to Cuba by boat, the Granma, and set up a base in the Sierra Maestra mountains. The majority were killed by Batista’s army shortly after landing, but 16 survived, among them Juan Almeida.

Almeida was central to many of the daring battles that soon turned the tide in Cuba. In less than three years, the small band of guerrillas swelled with recruits, including young peasants and workers oppressed by Batista’s tyranny and exploited by the U.S. corporations that sponsored him.

Almeida helped lead and train these youth into a formidable guerrilla army. He was widely quoted for declaring: “Nobody here is going to surrender!” In 1958, he became commander of the Santiago Column, which liberated the eastern end of the island. At the time of his death, he was one of only three surviving Cubans to bear the title “Commander of the Revolution”—an honorific reserved for leaders of the guerrilla struggle.

Almeida was the only Afro Cuban to become a commander in the 1950s guerrilla struggle. With his military prowess and his resolute commitment to the revolution, he joins the pantheon of great Black liberators who changed Cuban history—like Antonio Maceo, a hero of both the struggle against slavery and Cuba’s war for independence. Nicknamed “the Bronze Titan,” Maceo died in battle fighting Spanish colonial domination in 1896.

After the triumph of the revolution in 1959, Almeida continued to play a central role in the reorganization of Cuban society, which began with a literacy campaign and land reform and then, in the words of Che Guevara, “grew over” into a socialist revolution that ended forever the grip of U.S. corporations and the Cuban oligarchy over the economy. It was the expropriation of the profiteers that made it possible to develop a system of free medical care and education that has made Cubans today among the healthiest and best-educated people in the hemisphere.

In 1965, when the Communist Party of Cuba was officially launched—after a transition in which the old Communist Party was merged with Fidel’s 26th of July Movement—Juan Almeida became a member of its Central Committee and Political Bureau. He continued in these key Party positions for the rest of his life.

In addition, he took on the role of a vice-president of the State Council and chief of staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, where he helped steer the new Cuba through momentous struggles resisting U.S. imperialist aggression, from the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to the CIA bombing of a Cuban passenger airliner in 1976.

Somehow, despite all these responsibilities, this person of many talents also contributed to Cuba’s rich culture, writing 300 songs and several books about the country’s musical traditions.

Almeida belonged to a generation of larger-than-life heroes, women and men, many of whom were cut down in the struggle and never saw the fruits of their sacrifice. However, a younger generation of revolutionaries has taken up their cause, including the Cuban Five—men of principle who are incarcerated in the U.S. today because they dared penetrate the terrorist web of saboteurs centered in Miami and report on their actions.

It is stalwarts like Juan Almeida and now the Cuban Five who are proof that the Cuban Revolution will never surrender.
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