Obituary: Juan Almeida Bosque

‘¡Aquí no se rinde nadie!’ ‘No one surrenders here!’

On Sunday 13 September the Cuban flag was lowered to half mast across the island to mourn the death of Juan Almeida Bosque, aged 82, who died of a heart attack two days earlier. Tens of thousands of people paid their respects in every province in Cuba, led by Raul Castro in Revolution Square in Havana.

Almeida had participated in the revolutionary struggle against Batista from the outset in 1952, becoming a Commander of the Revolution, a member of the Political Bureau of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) since its formation in 1965, a delegate in the National Assembly and a vice president of the governing Council of State; positions he held until his death. He was also president of the Association of Combatants, founded in 1993 for veterans from the 1950s struggle and from Cuba’s military interventions in Africa and elsewhere in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Born in Havana in 1927 to a poor black family of 12 children, Almeida began work at the age of 11. In 1952, when Batista carried out his coup, with US support, Almeida was working as a bricklayer, a porter and in the ticket office of the spa in Havana University, where opposition to the dictatorship was organised. Almeida joined an underground resistance cell with fellow construction workers and teamed up with Fidel Castro and others planning the attack on the Moncada Barracks on 26 July 1953. The attacked failed and Almeida was captured and stood trial. During the court case the judge accused him of wanting a revolution so that he could give orders. He replied ‘I want the Revolution to triumph so the people can give orders...the moment has to arrive when it is the people...who are in charge’.

Freed in May 1955 as part of a general prisoner amnesty to quell public outcry, the Moncada attackers went into exile in Mexico from where they trained for guerrilla warfare and planned their return by boat. The parting love song written by Almeida for a Mexican woman, ‘Lupe’, became the song of the sea-sick journey on the overcrowded, leaking boat, known as the Granma expedition.

Three days after landing, the expeditionaries were ambushed. Shot in the neck, Che Guevara sat down to contemplate death. ‘No one surrenders here!’ shouted Almeida, above the din, responding to one rebel’s suggestion that they do just that.* Almeida urged Che up and taking control of a group of survivors, he set off to find Fidel and the others. It took them over two weeks to reunite.

In March 1957, Almeida was seriously wounded by a shot in the chest. Having recovered, a year later he took command of a new column and set off to create the Rebel Army’s Third Front, at the same time that Raul Castro created the Second Front. In January 1959, as the Revolution swept into power, Almeida entered Havana alongside Fidel Castro, and immediately took up positions of military command. In 1963, he became First Vice Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and Commander of the Central Division of the Army.

In addition to his military and political contributions, Almeida was an accomplished poet and wrote 12 books and 300 songs, many of which are national classics. In an interview given shortly before his death he said ‘The Revolution is an irreversible, tangible fact, made concrete and material by our plans in education, health services, our culture, scientific-technical developments, improvements in the conditions of life...the Revolution is not a work of perfection, but it is ours, and we have developed it with love and in favour of our people.’

Viva Juan Almeida Bosque!

Viva the Cuban Revolution!

* Che mistakenly wrote that it was Camilo Cienfuegos who shouted this, but it was Almeida.

FRFI 211 October / November 2009

 

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