Juan Almeida Bosque, a leader of the Cuban Revolution that toppled the bloody, U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, has died at age 82.
Almeida, who was born in a poor neighborhood of Havana, Cuba, left school at age 11 to begin work in construction.
In 1952, he joined Fidel Castro and a group of young Cubans in an attack on the Moncada Military Barracks in Santiago de Cuba which was aimed at securing arms for a popular uprising against the Batista dictatorship. Many of the participants in the failed incursion were tortured and murdered. Almeida, along with Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and others, were able to escape temporarily before being apprehended.
Almeida and the other captured rebels were imprisoned on the Isle of Pines. They were freed after nearly two years in prison as a result of popular pressure.
The rebels soon after went to Mexico where they formed a guerrilla nucleus and began training for a war to overthrow Batista.
In 1956, 82 rebels set out for Cuba on a rickety yacht. Their landing, delayed and disrupted, was a disaster. Not long after touching ground, all but 16 of the guerrillas had been killed by government forces.
Almeida led a small group that included Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who joined the Cuban revolutionaries, out into the jungle during that bleak early period.
The guerrillas were eventually able to regroup. They begun to win battles, recruit new members and supporters, establish new ties and advance.
Almeida, a crack shot, quickly became a comandante, the highest rank in the rebel army. He led one of the few guerrilla fronts during the revolutionary war.
On January 1, 1959, “Batista the Butcher” fled Cuba, realizing his overthrow was imminent. Immediately afterward, the victory of the Cuban Revolution was secured by an island-wide general strike.
The Revolution opened the doorway to equality for Almeida and other Black Cubans who previously suffered under conditions of degradation and discrimination.
Almeida held a number of positions in the revolutionary government. He was a General in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, president of the Association of Combatants of the Revolution and Vice-President of the Cuban Council of State.
At the time of his death, Almeida was one of only three living Cubans holding the title Commander of the Revolution.
Almeida was also an artist and writer, having written more than 300 songs and several books on Cuban History.
Thousands of Cubans showed up at memorials across the country to bid farewell to Almeida. According to his wishes, his body is being interred at the Mausoleum of the Mario Muñoz Monroy Third Eastern Front, which he led.