28 June 2007 Edition

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Vilma Espin : Adams extends condolences

Death of Cuban revolutionary Vilma Espin


Cuban revolutionary Vilma Espin died on Monday, 18 June at the age of 77 after a long illness.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has extended his deepest sympathies to the Cuban People, to Acting President Raul Castro Ruz, family and friends of Vilma Espin on her death.
Adams said: “Vilma Espin was a genuine representative of Cuban women. She played a decisive role from the beginning of the revolutionary struggle in her native home of Santiago De Cuba, ‘The cradle of the Revolution’.
“She dedicated her life to the defence of equal rights for women in Cuba and internationally through her work in the Federation of Cuban Women.
“Vilma Espin together with the Cuban People has written a page in the history of Humanity which is an inspiration for those of us around the world who struggle for justice and equality and for which we are eternally grateful.
Vilma Espín Guillois, who was born in 1930 in Santiago de Cuba, went on to be one of the most prominent women in revolutionary Cuba. She is credited with having been the driving force in advancing the position of women in that country. 
She described herself as coming from “a petit bourgeois family in Santiago de Cuba” where she grew up “without obstacles to my development”.  While her father was a lawyer for the Bacardi Rum company which fled Cuba after the revolution, she herself maintained that her parents understood the struggle she was involved in and identified with it.  Espin was in her fourth year of studying Chemical Engineering at university when the Batista Coup of 1952 took place.  She later recalled this as one of the key events that drove her to political activism saying it “awakened a tremendous rebellion in us all”.

Espin was involved with Frank País in organising the November 1956 Santiago de Cuba uprising and was a leader of July 26 Movement in Oriente Province in the eastern part of Cuba.  She played a key role in the preparations for the landing of the Granma yacht which was carrying Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, Che Guevara and rebels to Cuba from Mexico.  She had  previously acted as conduit between Castro in Mexico and Pais who was the best known face of the anti-Batista movement in Cuba (País was executed by Batsista’s forces in July 1957).
A key figure in the urban guerrilla struggle in the Santiago de Cuba, better known by her nom de guerre, “Deborah”, she was high on the wanted list.  Espin spent the last six months before the triumph of the revolution fighting with the Rebel Army in the Sierra Maestra.  It was here she met Raul Castro whom she married in 1959. 
Speaking following Vilma Espin’s death Fidel Castro said “For almost half a century, I have been witness to Vilma’s struggles. I cannot forget her presence at the meetings of the July 26 Movement in the Sierra Maestra. She was eventually sent by the movement’s directorate to carry out an important mission on the Second Eastern Front. Vilma did not shrink from any danger.”

Advanced position of women
Vilma Espin founded the Federation of Cuban Women in 1960, and remained president of the organisation until her death.  The Federation was established in order to advance the position of women and enable them to access the education and training that they were not able to access in the pre-revolutionary period.  It was Espin who drew up the Family Code of 1975 which gave women equal rights and obliged husbands by law to share housework and childcare.
She was the Director of Industrial Development of the Food Industry and President of the Childhood Institute. She presided over the National Social Prevention and Assistance Commission and the Cuban Parliament’s Commission for Assistance to Children and Youth and the National Group on Sexual Education.  Espín was also a member of the Council of State of Cuba.
Vilma Espín was the author of number of books, including Women and the Cuban Revolution (1981), Cuban Women Confront the Future (1991) and Unforgettable Frank about Frank País (2006).
In accordance with her wishes, Espin’s ashes were placed in a mausoleum in eastern Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountains that contains the remains of other rebel fighters.

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