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September 13, 2009

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Cuban revolutionary Almeida dies of a heart attack at 82

JUAN Almeida Bosque, a comrade-in-arms of Fidel Castro since the start of his guerrilla struggle in Cuba more than a half century ago, has died of a heart attack. He was 82.

A statement read on government media said Almeida, who died on Friday, would "live on forever in the hearts and minds of his compatriots."

Almeida had been one of only three surviving Cuban rebel leaders who still bore the honorary title "Commander of the Revolution."

A bricklayer who began work at 11, Almeida was one of the most important and decisive voices in the battle to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, as well as in the early years following the January 1, 1959, triumph of the revolution.

Born on February 27, 1927, Almeida was often seen at public events in his uniform alongside the Cuban leader until Castro fell gravely ill in the summer of 2006 and finally resigned the presidency in February 2008. Almeida Bosque then became a mainstay beside Castro's younger brother and successor, President Raul Castro.

With his full head of white hair and mustache, Almeida 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.

Along with Ramiro Valdes and Guillermo Garcia, he was distinguished as a "Commander of the Revolution" - a title reserved for top leaders of rebel troops under Fidel Castro's command in the 1950s.

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

Almeida was at his side a year later, on July 26, 1953, when Cuba's future president led an armed attack on a military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. The attack failed, but launched the revolutionary battle that eventually triumphed.

Imprisoned with the Castro brothers and other survivors of the offensive, Almeida was freed in May 1955 under an amnesty granted to the young revolutionaries.

Almeida accompanied the Castros and other revolutionaries 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.

Almeida, 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!" Almeida shouted to Guevara at the time, giving the Cuban revolution one of its most lasting slogans.

After Batista fled Havana on New Year's Day 1959, Almeida served in various military posts. He was later named a vice minister and chief of staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Almeida also composed traditional music and wrote about his years behind bars and in the mountains.


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