Vilma Espin, Wife of Raul Castro, Dies at 77

Vilma Espin, the wife of Cuba's acting leader Raul Castro and for years one of the most important women in Cuba, died Monday in Havana. She was 77. Espin fought alongside Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution and married his brother Raul shortly after the revolution.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The wife of Cuba's acting president Raul Castro - and for years one of the most important women in Cuba - died yesterday in Havana. Vilma Espin was 77 years old. She fought alongside Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution, and married his brother Raul shortly afterwards.

NPR's Tom Gjelten has this obituary.

TOM GJELTEN: 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.

At public events and ceremonial occasions, she often appeared alongside Fidel and was informally considered the first lady of Cuba. Fidel was divorced at the time of the revolution and kept his private life secret. In the last year, Espin herself was rarely seen in public. Cuban state television said she died of complications from a long illness.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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