The life of Juan Almeida
LLusif Sadin Tassé
24/9/2009 Issue 449
Interview by Tidiane Kassé
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 the 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!
Juan Almeida passed away on 11 September. He was 82. Almeida, an Afro-Cuban, was the only black to hold the title ‘Revolutionary Commander’. He was the second person after Che Guevara to be elevated the this rank, and forever remained the revolution’s ‘Number Three’, behind Fidel and Raul Castro. 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 on 1952. 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
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* 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 Ogadang_gra. gif
http://www.granma. cu/ingles/ 2009/septiembre/ lun14/Reflection s-13sept. html
Reflections of Fidel
Almeida is more alive today than ever
(Taken from CubaDebate)
I have spent hours listening by television to the entire country’s tribute to Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida Bosque. I think that confronting death was for him a duty like all of those that he fulfilled throughout his life; he did not know, nor did we, how much sadness the news of his physical absence would bring to us.
I had the privilege of knowing him: a young black man, a worker, combative who, successively, was chief of his revolutionary cell, a Moncada combatant, a prison compañero, platoon captain in the Granma landing, Rebel Army officer — brought to a standstill during his advance by a shot to the chest in the violent Combat of Uvero — a Column commander, marching to create the Third Eastern Front, a compañero who shared the leadership of our forces in the last victorious battles to overthrow the dictatorship.
I was a privileged witness to his exemplary conduct for more than half a century of heroic and victorious resistance, in the struggle against bandits, the counter-blow of Girón, the October Crisis, the internationalist missions and the resistance to the imperialist blockade.
I listened with pleasure to some of his songs, and especially that one of impassioned emotion which, in response to the homeland’s call for "victory or death," bade farewell to human dreams. I did not know that he had written more than 300 of them that joined his literary work, a source of enjoyable reading and of historic events. He defended principles of justice that will be defended at all times and during any period, as long as human beings breathe on Earth.
Let us not say that Almeida has died! He is more alive today than ever!
Fidel Castro Ruz
September 13, 2009
Translated by Granma International