Vilma Espin Guillois Presente!
Most people know the names and faces Cuban revolutionaries Ernesto “Che”Guevara and Fidel Castro but I would bet if you ask these same people about the women who were instrumental in the Cuban Revolution they would respond with a blank stare. The leadership women provide to revolutionary movements is often invisiblized so I wanted to bring it to the surface. This portrait of Vilma Espin is the first, in what I hope are many, portraits of revolutionary women.
“Vilma Espin was brought up in Santiago in eastern Cuba as a privileged girl. Her father was an executive at the Bacardi rum company, which was based in Santiago at the time. An exceptional student, she earned a degree in chemical engineering and went on to MIT for graduate study. Along the way, however, she got caught up in the movement against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. On a trip back to Cuba in 1956, she linked up with Fidel and Raul Castro in Mexico, where they were preparing for their revolution. She joined their cause, fought alongside them in the Cuban mountains, and helped lead an underground movement in her hometown of Santiago.
Never a woman to defer to her male counterparts, Vilma Espin became known within the movement for her uncompromising positions. As a fluent English speaker, she also served on occasion as an intermediary between the revolution’s leaders and U.S. officials who were monitoring the movement. After the revolution, she married Raul and went on to become one of the top officials of the Cuban Communist Party, as well as the president of the Federation of Cuban Women.”
“Under Vilma Espín’s leadership, the Federation of Cuban Women encouraged and organized millions of women to break their chains and demand full equality in everything from employment to reproductive rights. Today, as just one measure of their success, 65 percent of Cuba’s college graduates are women.”
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