Juan Almeida, a Cuban Revolutionary

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The stylized monochromatic features of Argentinian Ernesto “Che” Guevara have become the face of the Cuban revolution. It’s a face you will find on clothing, murals, lunchboxes, and never more than a mile from any college campus. As a mascot Guevara has become a fashionable and easy way for the world to simplify and often dismiss Cuba’s politics and much of her modern history. It is romantic to imagine Che and Fidel Castro storming down from the mountainside waging a two-man war on capitalism and oppression but it is not the truth. Countless Cubans died and fought for the nation that they have today and premier among them was Juan Almeida Bosque.

Bosque was born in Havana on February 17th, 1927, into a world of poverty and racism. His desire to succeed and improve economic and social plight lead him to study law at the University of Havana where he met fellow classmate Fidel Castro in 1952 and became an active member of what we would come to know as the Cuban Revolution.  A year later Almeida was arrested with Fidel and his brother Raúl  for participating in an assault on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. They were all granted amnesty in 1955 and exiled to Mexico.

While in exile, the Castro brothers and Almeida, and Che planned a guerilla war on Cuba. In 1956, almost 80 other rebels participated in the Granma expedition. Almeida was one of a dozen to survive the confrontation with President Batista’s forces. During the battle Almeida coined the famous battle cry “¡Aqui, no se rinde nadie!” which translates to “Here, no one surrenders!”

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Castro and Almeida lead a retreat into the Sierra Maestra to recoup and develop a more impactful plan of attack. They spent two years in the mountains where they gained crucial support from the Cuban people, streamlining logistics and increasing artillery reserves through army raids. Almeida was appointed Commander and head of the Santiago Column of the Revolutionary Army in 1958. The following year the revolutionaries forced Batista to flee to Spain and ascended to power. Almeida not only played a major role in the inception of the revolution, but also in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He remained active in politics, receiving a promotion to General, heading the National Association of Veterans and Combatants of the Revolution, serving as a committee member for various government positions, and ultimately, ranking third in command for the Cuban Council of State. His honors are numerous, including the titles Commander of the Revolution (1958) and Hero of the Republic of Cuba (1998).

Juan Almeida Bosque died of a heart attack on September 11, 2009.His body was laid to rest in a mausoleum near the mountains of Santiago de Cuba, the site of his first battles. Almeida’s contributions were important to all Cubans, but especially to Afro Cubans. As a victim of racism and economic inequalities, he became the first Black leader of the Revolution, fighting tooth and nail for the implementation of a government based in equality and brotherhood. He will forever be remembered as a commander, general, and songwriter*.

*(A complete list of his compositions is available here.)

by Francesca H. Brown, Candidate for Masters in Urban Policy and Management at The New School for Public Engagement

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3 Comments

  1. Christopher Erk

     /  September 26, 2013

    Thank you very much for this profile of a man who clearly loved his country so much that he was able to achieve his goals when the odds were stacked against him. It is so easy to lose track of all of those that contribute to such great feats of adversity. Fidel and Che seemed to have grown in the public eye because they sought such regard from the media. It is often those in the shadows of the media that are pulling as equal weight as those in the spotlight. Here is a testimony of a selfless rebel whose acts for his cause and regard from his people was clearly enough for him see his efforts through to victory.

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  2. Matthew Duprey

     /  October 10, 2013

    I found this piece very interesting because it was all new to me. I had never heard of Juan Almeida Bosque before reading this. He seemed to be a man who was very effective behind the scenes of the Cuban Revolution. I think it in a way shows that time is often unfair to revolutionaries, especially those who supported movement which are not entirely “Western” (whatever that has come to mean). Bosque seemed to be supporting the revolution out of a genuine desire to help the people of his country and improve the quality of living and quality of governance. It was the same with Vladimir Lenin, but the attachment of the Western perception of Communism has in my opinion hurt their standing. It is important to note at the time of the revolution they sought to improve their people and their country as this article does a good job of pointing out was the case with Juan Almeida Bosque.

    Also the commentary at the beginning is interesting, I’ve never fully understood how Che Guevara became the symbol for every type of revolution.

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  3. Andres Villalon

     /  November 10, 2013

    Thank you for posting this piece on Almeida.
    Being a Cuban-American and having grown up hearing stories of the revolution it is affirming to learn more about the conditions and nature of the revolution. I have heard of the revolutionaries in a not-so-pleasant way expressing anti-Castro and anti-revolution discussion at family gatherings. Their feelings were passionate as the revolutions threatened their way of life in Cuba. Needless to say they were, for the most part, part of a privileged class at that time in Cuba.
    I have since come to learn the other side of the story through articles like this. It is the story of the oppressed Black Cubans and the Taino people and the depth of the corruption and inequality that was taking place. The previous dictator, Fulgencio Batista essentially ran a police state that disregarded the needs of the Cuban People as a whole and rather catered to American and a small elite Cuban population. It was this atrocious inequality that fueled the revolutionaries. The revolution was not born out of an individual’s desire for power, but rather out of a community’s desire for equality.
    – Andres

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