Cuban Revolutionary Fought For Women, Gays

Vilma Espin Dead at 77

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Cuba’s in mourning today after word spread that revolutionary hero Vilma Espin has died.

The 77-year old wife of acting President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, Espin won countless Cuban – and international – fans after fighting for women’s and gay rights. Al Jazeera reports:

Espin earned her revolutionary credentials by joining the armed struggle against Fulgencio Batista, the military ruler, in her hometown of Santiago, on Cuba’s eastern coast, in 1956.

Rebelling against her wealthy upbringing – her father was an executive at the Bacardi rum distillery – Espin joined Castro’s guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra mountains where she met Raul.

With her brother-in-law in power, Espin helped to establish and then lead [The Federation of Cuban Women] to fight illiteracy and bolster women’s political participation, also campaigning on issues such as abortion, contraception and children’s rights.

Espin also successfully pushed for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1979.

Had it not been for Espin’s social conscience, Cuban gays would never have the space to negotiate more inclusive family rights – a battle they began yesterday.