Mainstream Weekly

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > July 07, 2007 > An Exemplary Revolutionary

Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 29

An Exemplary Revolutionary

by Nina Dey-Gupta

Saturday 7 July 2007


A Book of Condolence was kept open at the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba on June 25-26, 2007 for Vilma Espin Guillois who had passed away on June 18, 2007 at 4.14 pm after a prolonged and painful illness.

Who was Vilma? Her role in the Cuban Revolution is perhaps legion to every citizen in that country. At the time of her demise, she was a member of the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba, Member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, President of the Federation of Cuban Women and Deputy to the National Assembly of the People’s Power of the Republic of Cuba which had declared official mourning on June 18-19, 2007.
This outstanding woman had devoted her life to work in favour of women not only in Cuba but also in the rest of the world and commanded immense respect for her role in the Revolution.

Vilma was born in Santiago de Cuba on April 7, 1930 in a family that very early on cultivated the values and ethics which would distinguish her. From a young age she assumed political and revolutionary positions, actively participating in student demonstrations following the coup d’etat carried out by Fulgencio Batista in 1952. Like all young people who would later follow Fidel, she had spoken out against the military coup of March 10, 1952. Her revolutionary activities unfolded during that historic time—the year of the Centenary of Jose Marti, specifically when the student Ruben Batista died in Havana from injuries sustained in a student demonstration and Vilma took to the streets to protest his death, holding a symbolic funeral in Santiago, an action that ended in a veritable battle against the dictator. From then onwards she was an inseparable collaborator of Frank Pais, joining organisations founded by him until the members of what was then called the National Revolutionary Action, joined the ranks of the 26 July Movement, taking part in the armed uprising of Santiago de Cuba on November 30, 1956 in support of the expeditionary force arriving on the ‘Granma yacht’. She converted her home into the headquarters of the Movement in Santiago. A member of the National Leadership of the 26 July Movement, just before Frank Pais was assassinated, she was named the Provincial Co-ordinator of the clandestine organisation in what was then the Eastern Province of Oriente, a role that she carried out with particular skill and bravery facing constant danger and persecution.

Vilma’s graduation years at the University of Oriente was an enjoyable one for her with her active participation in the University Choir. She passed out as one of the two first women graduate chemical-industrial engineers in Cuba. She next travelled to the United States for pursuing post-graduate study at the Massachussetts Institute of Technolgy in Boston. On completion of this course in the US, she was instructed by the leadership of the 26 July Movement to head for Mexico to meet with Fidel Castro. It was the crucial moment of the ‘Granma’ expedition. That meeting in Mexico with Fidel cut short Vilma’s student life as a solidly trained chemical-industrial engineer and steered her life in a totally different direction. She joined the Rebel Army in June 1958 and became the legendary guerrilla fighter of the Frank Pais Second Eastern Front, commanded by Raul Castro Ruz, whom she later married in 1959.

AFTER the triumph of the Revolution, she immersed herself in various tasks assigned to her by Fidel Castro, heading the Unification of Women’s Organisations and the setting up of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). She tirelessly led the organisation until the last minute of her life, presiding over the Commission of Children and Youth as well as the Commission on Women’s Equal Rights. The history of the FMC was an important part of Vilma’s life. Although she was unable to exercise her career as an industrial engineer, she wielded a great influence in programmes of the Revolution of a technical or economic nature, her central task being political and social in the widest sense. The initial tasks of the new organisation were to promote educational, ideological and cultural training for women. This was the beginning of a road that took thousands of Campesino women to a different life, one of full participation in the countrys economy.

Vilma was one of Fidel Castro’s most enthusiastic collaborators promoting knowledge and cultural education. Being a member of the National Literacy Commission, she placed the new mass organisation at the centre of the colossal battle waged for all the people, opening class-rooms for adult education, all of them filled with enthusiastic women. She also gave special attention to women’s military training including their incorporation as professionals in the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Women all over the world in favour of revolutionary causes, would find in her a promoter and participant in every action and an effective supporter of women’s movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Vilma has been the recipient of several meritorious awards—national and international.

Warm sentiments were expressed on her demise by President Fidel Castro Ruz:

“Vilma’s example today is more necessary than ever. She devoted her entire life to the struggle for womens’ rights when in Cuba most women were discriminated against as human beings, the same as in the rest of the world, with only the honourable revolutionary exceptions...leading her to fulfill the social role befitting her as a natural workshop, where life is forged.. 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. After the triumph of the Revolution, she began her ceaseless battle for the rights of Cuban women and children, which led her to found and lead the Federation of Cuban Women. There was no national or international forum too distant for her to attend in defence of her assailed homeland and of the noble and just ideas of the Revolution...Today women in Cuba make up 66 per cent of the technical workforce of the country. Previously, there were hardly any women involved in scientific activities, since science and scientists did not exist, but exceptionally. Today, in this field as well women are in the majority. Long live Vilma!”

The writer, in offering her heartfelt condolences, prays that this exemplary revolutionary’s life—an epitome of courage—remains a role model not only for the young in Cuba but even for those outside Cuba.

Formerly at the University of Delhi having taught there Comparative Education, Education in the Third World and Developing Countries, and Pedagogy of History, the author has visited Cuba twice during the last three years.

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.