- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

HAVANA | The death of Juan Almeida Bosque, a vice president who was one of the last giants of Cuba’s 1959 revolution, plunged the island into mourning Saturday and was a stark reminder of the mortality of all of Cuba’s aging leaders - including brothers Raul and Fidel Castro.

Mr. Almeida Bosque was the first of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders to die since President Raul Castro’s wife Vilma Espin, a one-time guerrilla commander in her own right, passed away in June 2007 at the age of 77.

A statement in government media said Mr. Almeida Bosque died of a heart attack late Friday at age 82, but will “live on forever in the hearts and minds of his compatriots.” The government declared a national day of mourning to begin at 8 a.m. Sunday and ordered all flags flown at half-staff.

Mr. Almeida Bosque was one of three surviving rebel leaders who still bore the honorary title “Commander of the Revolution” and was a highly visible member of Cuba’s thinning old guard, most of whom are in their late 70s and early 80s.

His death “is a reminder of what everyone knows, which is that the original generation is in its final laps,” said Phil Peters, a Cuba specialist at the Arlington-based Lexington Institute think tank.

Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since he fell gravely ill in 2006. The 83-year-old formally turned over power to 77-year-old Raul in February 2008, though he is still head of Cuba’s Communist Party and often publishes his thoughts on current events in state media outlets.

Officials surrounding the Castros are also well past the age when most people retire. Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who is second only to Raul in the leadership, is 78. Another important Communist Party leader, Jose Ramon Fernandez, is 85.

The two living “Comandantes de la Revolucion,” Guillermo Garcia and Ramiro Valdes, are 81 and 77, respectively.

Mr. Almeida Bosque, originally a bricklayer who began working at the age of 11, was the only black commander among the early rebel leaders. He was a decisive voice in the battle to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and in the early years following the Jan. 1, 1959, triumph of the Cuban revolution.

With a mustache and a full head of white hair, Mr. Almeida Bosque was a highly visible member of Cuba’s ruling elite, sitting on the Communist Party’s politburo and serving as a vice president on the Council of State, the country’s supreme governing body. He cut back on activities in December 2003, citing heart problems.

Mr. Almeida Bosque joined the fight against Batista’s dictatorship in March 1952 as a young law student at the University of Havana, where he met Fidel Castro, another aspiring attorney.

Mr. Almeida Bosque was at Mr. Castro’s side a year later, on July 26, 1953, when Cuba’s future president led an armed attack on the Moncada, a military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. It was a disaster, and Mr. Almeida Bosque and both Castros were imprisoned. But that failure launched the revolutionary battle that triumphed 5 1/2 years later.

Freed under an amnesty granted to the young revolutionaries, Mr. Almeida Bosque accompanied the Castros and others to Mexico, where they formed a guerrilla army. They returned to Cuba in December 1956 on the American yacht “Granma” and launched their battle from the island’s eastern Sierra Maestra.

Mr. Almeida Bosque, the Castro brothers and Argentine-born Ernesto “Che” Guevara were among only 16 who survived the landing, in which most of the rebels were killed by government troops.

“No one here gives up!” Mr. Almeida Bosque shouted to Guevara at the time, coining an enduring slogan of the Cuban revolution and ensuring his place in Cuban communist history.

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