Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Life of Juan Almeida: Interview With Llusif Sadin Tasse

The life of Juan Almeida: Interview With Llusif Sadin Tasse

Interview by Tidiane Kassé
2009-09-24, Issue 449

Juan Almeida, the only Afro-Cuban to hold the title of Revolutionary Commander, died on 11 September. The second person after Che Guevara to be elevated to this rank, he remained the Cuban revolution’s ‘Number Three’ behind Fidel and Raul Castro throughout his life. Llusif Sadin Tassé, Cuba’s ambassador to Senegal, spoke to Pambazuka News about the life of this hero, who is credited for the famous battle cry: ‘Nobody here is going to surrender!’

In his homage to Almeida, Fidel Castro described him as a ‘companion of exemplary conduct in the course of over 50 years of heroic and triumphant resistance’. Almeida, the son of a labourer, was part of the revolution right from the beginning. He was part of the attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago, on the 26th of July 1953, as well as all the other battles that led to the eventual triumph by Castro’s forces.

Facing the onslaught of Batista’s superior troops, he is credited with the famous battle cry, ‘nobody here is going to surrender!’ He was a member of the new Cuban Communist Party’s Politburo at its inception in 1965. H.E. Llusif Sadin Tassé, Cuba’s ambassador to Senegal, spoke to Pambazuka News about the life of this hero.

Fidel Castro reflected that he had no idea just how much pain Almeida’s passing would cause the Cuban people. Almeida, who passed away on 11 September, is more than just an icon. He is part and parcel of the country’s history, its revolution, and all that gave his life meaning.

Almeida was the second of twelve children. At a very young age he was forced to join his mason father to make ends meet. In 1952 when Batista staged his coup d’Etat, he joined the progressive voices, especially the students, who took up arms. His political conscience made him keenly aware that Cuban democracy was under threat, and it was only through armed conflict that it could be safeguarded. It was at this point that Almeida joined the revolutionary forces. He took part in the assault on the Moncada army barracks in 1953. The ill-fated assault landed him in prison, along with Fidel, Raul and a number of other key revolutionaries.

Under public pressure, a general amnesty was declared, and Almeida was one of those who were exiled to Mexico. There, the core revolutionary group formed, with the arrival of Che Guevarra and others. He remained very close to Fidel, even after they returned to Cuba. He was aboard the Granma, and on the frontline of all subsequent battles leading up to the fall of Havana in 1959.

His revolutionary pedigree does not however detract from another facet of this man – Almeida the poet, writer and artist. His works chronicled the nexus moments of the revolution, from a first-person perspective. Almeida the writer and revolutionary was one of only three people to achieve the rank of commander in the course of the Sierra war. He ranked third behind Che and Raul.

He owed this distinction to his extraordinary qualities. As Fidel stated, he was one of those fighters who was always ready to fight with one, and for one, to the death. Every time he went into combat he was ready to die. He was a living example. He is credited with the battle cry ‘nobody here is going to surrender!’ He uttered this when his fellow fighters, surrounded and outnumbered by Batista’s troops, were losing hope.

Almeida carried all his battle glory with unbelievable humility. He headed the veterans’ association, all the while remaining an artist and a creator of beauty. A number of songs he composed won international accolades. One of these songs, La Lupita, which went on to become a Cuban classic, was composed aboard the Granma.

It is a sad song of loss and separation, and it has been said that Almeida was singing of a lost love. In reality Lupita was about all the friends and loved ones that the revolutionaries left behind on their way to the battlefront.

After the triumphant revolution, all his prestigious appointments did not prevent him for running the association for veterans of the Cuban revolution. The association represented not only those who fought in Cuba, but also on other fronts like Angola and elsewhere. He forged strong links with the great leaders of the Luso-African revolutions.

As the only Afro-Cuban to hold the title of Revolutionary Commander, Almeida’s dedication over-shadowed the race issue. He was dedicated to the fight against poverty and social injustices, which were undoubtedly even starker when one was black and poor in Cuba at the time. His dedication is thus a reflection of his sensitivity towards others and to their suffering.

Almeida asked to be buried at the Mausoleum at Santiago de Cuba in Oriente, built in memory of those members of the 3rd front that he led. He lies there among his fellow combatants, after all the military honours according him, and the homage of the country’s population


His Excellency Llusif Sadin Tassé is Cuba’s ambassador to Senegal. His reflections were recorded by Tidiane Kassé, editor of Pambazuka News, French Edition.

Translated by Josh Ogada

Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.


withoutacountry said...

As a native born daughter and African Cuban now residing in the US, i along with family also paid homage to Juan Almeida, after his death and we did this is in Cuba last month.
i am Milagros Garcia Villamil, and my own father as well as 3 uncles fought alongside this extraordinary man whom they called compadre for our people.

Senor Almeida, was the one living revolutionary who not only knew who he was, but he was someone who understood what it meant to be a committed freedom fighter.

Almeidas committment to the libertad de Cuba, was like a festering soar that would not heal, he lived freedom spoke freedom, and demonstrated freedom to all of those who came under his command,and to all Cubans everyday of his life, from the beginning until his death.

Before the revolution i was sent out of Cuba, and lived in San Juan for 3 yrs before my father allowed me to return...My father was a musician whose own love for freedom demanded that he take up arms in pursuit thereof, and it was his old compadre Juan Almeida, who led him him and three of my uncles to battle for libertad.

When i was a teenager before the revolution, Senor Almeida had occassion to often visit the Villamil Cabildo and to this end i feel comfortable speaking about thiis genious and committed countryman who lived the life of a free man his entire life.

i say this to say..Batista, Grau Machado and no..Not even El Commandante would ever be able to take away or give what the creator had already given our country and people..Rather Fidel, only served to make freedom a fact.

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