Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cuban revolution's 'first lady' laid to rest in Sierra Maestra

The Ledger

Published Friday, June 22, 2007

By ANITA SNOW
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA

Vilma Espin, the former guerrilla fighter who was communist Cuba's most politically powerful woman, was laid to rest with full military honors Friday.

Her husband, acting president Raul Castro, placed an urn containing her ashes in a mausoleum in the Sierra Maestra, where Espin fought during the late 1950s against the government of Fulgencio Batista. Espin died Monday at age 77 following a lengthy illness.

Castro arrived at the Second Front in the Sierra Maestra along with family members, a small group of Espin's closest friends and other former rebels. The site northeast of the eastern city of Santiago houses holds the remains of other guerrilla fighters from the revolution led by Espin's brother-in-law Fidel Castro.

Fidel has not been seen in public since announcing last July that emergency intestinal surgery was forcing him to temporarily cede power to a government headed by his younger brother Raul, the defense minister.

The 80-year-old Cuban leader did not appear this week at formal tributes in Espin's honor, or Friday's ceremony, but he wrote about her in an essay called "Vilma's Battles" published in official media.

State television showed images Friday of Raul delivering the urn to a young female soldier in a dress white uniform for the final military honor guard. Five large funeral wreaths were arranged around the honor guard.

Afterward, the traditional Cuban composition "El Mambi" was played while urn was transported on an open cart behind a vehicle to the mausoleum steps. Raul then carried the wooden container to the mausoleum wall, placing a lingering kiss on the urn, and letting loose a sob, before placing it in a niche to be sealed later.

Cuba's national anthem was played and military riflemen delivered a three-gun military salute. Old recordings were played of Epson singing nursery songs to her four children, along with another message for her husband, Raul: "I could not live without you."

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