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Remains of  Vilma Espin buried in eastern Cuba
Vilma is back in her native Santiago de Cuba. She has returned to join her comrades, to continue the struggle as an icon of a people that considers her a heroine. Her ashes now feed the core of a gray granite rock, located at the head of the Mausoleum for the combatants of the "Frank Pais" Second Front, on the very same soil where half a century ago she became one of the leading members of that contingent of young rebel fighters.

The mausoleum is located between the town of Soledad de Mayarí and the Micara hills. This is where Raul deposited the urn containing the ashes of his beloved wife; of the young lady whose heart he won in the mountains amidst the din of the shared combat; of the young woman who much before, when the coup d'etat staged by Batista in 1952, understood that her life would be interwoven with the best causes of the Homeland.

The deep recess carved in the hard rock received yesterday, Friday June 22, the inseparable collaborator of Frank Pais; the heroine of the underground struggle, the courageous woman who gave refuge in her home to the persecuted assailants of the Moncada Barracks, the loyal follower of Fidel, the participant of the uprising of Santiago de Cuba on November 30, 1956, the galvanizer of wills, the forger of a united organization of Cuban women, the leading advocate of cultural, political, social and spiritual advancement of women in the Revolution... the Party leader, the legislator, the international fighter for the emancipation of women and childrens rights.

It is an intimate ceremony: Army General Raul Castro, his four children, grandchildren, other relatives, close friends and a reduced group of comrades-in-arms.

They arrive just before 8:00 am. The clouds hovering over the valley and the mountains dissipate rapidly. The warm sun of Santiago lightens up the bright colors of the surrounding vegetation and the plants sown as part of the mausoleums allegories. The Second Secretary of the Communist Party and Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces gets out of a car; it is he who brings the urn with Vilma s ashes; he has come from Havana with them. He hands them to a female soldier of the ceremonial unit of the Armed Forces Joint Staff, by the side of the first building of the monumental ensemble, enabling the last honor guard to begin.

A lane flanked by royal palm trees, leads to the building. At its base, hidden beneath the Earth, there is a small room. It is there where the fervent admirer of Marti receives the last honors before the burial. The urn with the ashes has been placed upon a wooden base, whose upper side of gray granite and pentagonal shape bears the eternal flame lit for the heroes, and there is a picture of Vilma, similar to those that were seen in Havana and Santiago and other locations throughout the country in the tribute paid by the Cuban people to her memory.

Raul, his relatives, and a reduced group of friends and guests remain briefly in the room, where numerous distinctions and decorations awarded to Vilma are on display, as well as five floral wreaths; those sent by Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro, one from Raul, his children and grandchildren, one sent by the Federation of Cuban Women, another by the veterans of the underground struggle and the Rebel Army, and another on behalf of the Cuban people.

Dressed in uniforms for the occasion, members of the ceremonial detachment enter the building to carry the floral wreaths, the medals, and the urn. It is then that an anthological musical piece, El Mambi, symbol of the love and rebelliousness of Cubans and one of Vilmas favorite tunes, is heard, this time with an arrangement by composer Frank Fernandez.

And so the funeral entourage assembles at the entrance of the mausoleum. Behind the structure where the urn containing the ashes of the heroine has been placed, will go Raul, his children, grandchildren, other relatives and friends.

They march slowly bordering one of the sides of the construction until they reach an intermediate esplanade between the front structure of the mausoleum and the heart of the historical site, which bears the remains of the members of the Second Front, founded and commanded by Raul Castro.

Colonel Guerrero Ramos gives the order of attention and present arms to the squads taking part in the military ceremony and posthumous tribute; the funeral procession approaches. Lieutenant Colonel Temis Tasende, daughter of the martyr of the 1953 assault on the Moncada Garrison, Jose Luis Tasende, once again puts Vilmas remains in Rauls hands. The family joins him to continue along the central path of the mausoleum heading to the deep recess in a wall where the legendary veteran who died on Monday June 18, will rest.

They arrive to the large stone where the tomb was carved. A lone bugle plays in a sign of tribute. The national anthem, played by the band of the General Staff of the R evolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) intermingles with the three gun salute by a squad of female cadets of the Antonio Maceo Order of the General Jose Maceo Interarmas School of the FAR.

The floral wreaths were laid near the symbolic stone at the head of the memorial. There is an eternal flame, a wreath of golden laurels and olive branches, along with the Cuban flag hoisted on a flagpole that emerges from a five-sided column recalling the five points of the Lone Star and the hardness of combat, where some fall and others continue with the flag held high.

Located at the extreme right at the head of the mausoleum, with the Micara hills behind it, the rock has ferns planted around it and other plants on both sides in the form of an arch. One of them has three varieties of the same shrub. When mature, they will have white and crimson flowers and the ones nearest the monolith will take the shape of a red mantle. With this the artist wanted to show the mix of purity, tenderness and passion in this daughter of Santiago and of Cuba, born on April 7, 1930.

Raul and his family remain for several minutes in front of the tomb. The few journalists present at the ceremony are unable to hear their intimate conversation. There is a dense silence floating in the air. Those watching close up comment that after depositing the funerary urn Raul takes it again in his hands to give a final kiss to his beloved wife. He remains there with his hands on the small hardwood box, in a silent conversation, as the ashes are returned to their stone shelter.

The pain is inevitable with the loss of such an extraordinary woman, but suddenly her voice comes alive and is heard throughout the valley. A shuddering occurs..., "She is life; she will never die!"

The recorded voice of Vilma sang the sweet and rhythmical lullabies that she sang many years ago to her children: Deborah, Mariela, Nilsita and Alejandro. Composer Frank Fernandez had made the orchestra recordings of the songs kept for the Castro Espin family.

Vilma makes her boyfriend, her husband, fall in love again with one of the favorite lyrics of both of them: "... sin ti es inútil vivir/ como inútil será el quererte olvidar..." (Without you life isnt worth living/ just as useless as it would be trying to forget you).

The troops march in a final tribute to the famous fighter. They are carrying three flags: The national flag, the one of the July 26th Movement and that the Federation of Cuban Women.

Raul and his family remain after the ceremony concludes; together they visit the more than 200 tombs with the remains of the combatants of the Second Front at the mausoleum. At each one they placed an intense orange gladiola.

Source: ACN

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