Cuba mourns death of Raul Castro's wife

Cuba on Tuesday declared a day of official mourning for Vilma Espin, the late wife of acting President Raul Castro and one of the most influential women in Cuba's political system.

Espin, 77, died late Monday after a long battle with lymphatic cancer, government officials said.

Raul Castro, accompanied by Alejandro Castro Espin, one of the couple's four children, opened funeral services by putting a red rose beneath a large photograph of Espin at the Jose Marti memorial in Havana's emblematic Revolution Square.

Thousands of mourners from the capital Havana came to honor Espin and marched past her photo in Revolution Square. Espin is the most important revolution figure to die since Celia Sanchez, one of Fidel Castro's closest confidants,in 1980.

In Cuba's second city Santiago, Espin's home town, thousands mourned in the city's Revolution Square.

"Her name will be eternally bound up with most significant victories of Cuban women in the revolution and the most prominent strugglers for the emancipation of women in our country and in the world," an official statement said.

In the evening, Raul Castro and top Cuban officials gathered at Havana's Karl Marx Theatre for a candlelight service in Espin's honor.

Cuban television hailed Espin as a "heroine of the underground, an outstanding fighter of the rebel army and a tireless struggler for the emancipation of women and the defense of rights of the child."

Meanwhile, tributes poured in from major figures including Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Espin rebelled against her wealthy family and joined the armed struggle against the then right-wing leader Fulgencio Batista in 1956. She married with Raul in Havana in 1959 after Batista fled Cuba.

Espin founded the Cuban Women's Federation in 1960, an organization encouraging Cuban women in the revolutionary cause and promoting gender equality. She has been a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and also a member of the party's Politburo from 1980 to 1991.

Source: Xinhua

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