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, lunch boxes, 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

Masters in Urban Policy and Management Candidate at The New School for Public Engagement

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2 Comments

  1. Jose L Diaz

     /  October 6, 2014

    Juan Almeida, like many other unrecognized participants of the Cuban revolution, go without notice. Of course, we all romanticize with Fidel, Raul, and Che because they were the principle faces of the revolution (by no means am i a scholar). However, to label Che as a mascot is rather a stretch. Like Almeida, Che and many others of the revolution e.g. Raul, Cienfuegos, Pais,Vilma Espin (and many others) were instrumental in not only fighting the dictatorship of Batista but also implementing social programs. So, although not every member of the revolution can be recognized or given their due respect, to say that Che and Fidel are the main figure heads of the revolution is a disservice to all those who sacrificed their lives.

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  2. Sarah

     /  October 8, 2014

    I think Cuba’s treatment of race is one of the more interesting parts about the revolution. Beforehand, under Batista, racism was overt, with race-based clubs and segregation. But because the communist revolution defined itself as a movement for racial (and gender) equality, black Cubans were integrated into the ranks and new society in new ways. As a rebel leader and then high-ranking state official, Juan Almeida Bosque must have been at the forefront of those new developments. But I also read that racial discrimination was still there, under the surface, but new communist leaders were reluctant to acknowledge it – although later, after Cuba went to war in Africa in order to support Angola, there was a surge pride in Afro-Cuban identity, which opened up new conversations about some lingering race problems in Cuba.

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