Time magazine featured Vilma Lucila Espín [along with Janet Jagan, see previous post Guyana’s Janet Jagan Named One of World’s Most Rebellious Women] in “16 of History’s Most Rebellious Women.”
Dan Fastenberg describes: Many of the leaders of the Cuban revolution were among the very Latin elites whose supremacy over the masses they set out to topple—i.e., they were male and from the professional class. Fidel Castro was trained as a lawyer, while Ernesto “Che” Guevara studied medicine. But the spirit of the rebellion was most vividly embodied by the “First Lady” of Cuba’s communist revolution, Vilma Lucila Espín. Her father was a lawyer for the rum company Bacardi, whose business exploits in Cuba were viewed by Castro’s July 26 Movement as treating the island nation like a Yankee playground. After training as a chemical engineer, including a year of study at MIT, Espín took up arms against the Batista dictatorship in the 1950s and debunked the notion of the docile Caribbean woman with her public appearances in full army fatigues.
Carl Dow (True North Perspective) describes: In 1954, at age 24, Vilma Lucila Espín Guillois was one of the first Cuban women to graduate in chemical engineering and went to MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for further study. Meanwhile she had met and became closely associated with Frank País, leader of the urban underground in Havana of the 26th of July Movement (M-26-7) which was dedicated to the overthrow of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship.
Vilma took up arms and was part of the uprising at Santiago de Cuba on November 30, 1956, in support of the Castros and 81 other revolutionaries including Che Guevara (who sailed to Cuba on a ship called Granma). While in the rebel army she met Raúl Castro whom she married on January 26, 1959. They went on to have four children.
After the success of the Revolution in 1959, she flowered as part of the establishment of the new government. She headed the unification of women’s organizations across the island and in August 1960, she helped found the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). She was elected its president and served in that capacity throughout her life. She also fulfilled several other important responsibilities. She was the Director of Industrial Development of the Food Industry and President of the Childhood Institute. She presided over the National Social Prevention and Assistance Commission and the Cuban Parliament’s Commission for Assistance to Children and Youth, and the National Group on Sexual Education. She was instrumental in training young generations of Cubans [and] took part in various activities in support of the country’s scientific development.
Internationally, she was regarded as an outstanding political leader. She would often head Cuban delegations to international events. Vilma frequently represented Cuba at the United Nations General Assembly, and was the recipient of many decorations from other countries. As the spouse of Raúl Castro, the younger brother of longtime Cuban president Fidel Castro, she was for decades regarded by foreign diplomatic circles and the western press as the unofficial first lady of Cuba.
For original blurb (and first photo above), see http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2057714_2251979,00.html
For extended biography (and second photo, Vilma Espin with Raúl Castro), see http://archives.truenorthperspective.com/Apr_10/Apr_23/guillo.html