Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A death in Havana

I am away from my computer screen for barely 24 hours (time to farewell the Miami cousins) and what happens?

News of a death foretold in Havana.

No, not that death.

The death of Vilma Espin, long-time wife of Raul Castro.

As president-for-life of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), Espin was a key player in the regime for many years and was widely regarded as one of the most influential women in Cuba since the Castro brothers came to power in January 1959.

It seems she had been seriously ill for some time but as usual, the Cuban people were kept in the dark about her illness. A State secret, no doubt. In fact, Cubans were only told of the death after her body had been cremated.

Anyway, a couple of points to make.

The first and most obvious is that while Espin’s death would have been expected by those at the very top of the regime, given her illness, it will still be a huge psychological blow for the Castro brothers.

It’s always the way when confronted by your own mortality.

The second point is to clarify the comments made by some foreign correspondents in Havana, who have described the FMC as some sort of independent “feminist organisation” set up to “defend and promote the rights of Cuban women”.


As was made clear from its inception in 1960, the FMC was set up by Espin with one overwhelming aim: to mobilise Cuban women from all walks of life, whether they liked it or not, to “defend and promote” Fidel Castro and his regime.

From Espin down, its leaders are always senior members of the Communist Party, which funds the organisation.

And even today, this supposedly independent feminist mass movement continues to conclude all of its meetings and functions by expressing its undying loyalty (and homage) to El Comandante en Jefe.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Espin came from a rich bourgeois family that sent her to study in the US before the revolution. As sometimes happens with children of privilege, she fell for the "radical" mystique (so did her sister, Nilsa, who wound up a suicide).

Vilma was always a hardline, orthodox Castro-communist. Her complete political reliability and close personal connection to the Castro brothers were the basis for her power.

Given her wealthy background and her elite post-revolution status as a member of the highest circles, it is highly debatable what qualifications or firsthand knowledge she really had concerning ordinary Cuban women. She was never such a woman herself in her entire life.

12:18 am  

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