Only Three "Historicos" Left in Cuba after Almeida's Death
Yet, despite his heroic credentials -- and like Valdes -- Almeida was not always fully trusted by the Castro brothers. In the end, nonetheless, his humble roots, racial identity and youthful military feats guaranteed his prominent place in the revolutionary pantheon.
Few black revolutionaries
Castro's guerrilla movement produced few other black warriors and none who distinguished themselves in combat to the extent he did. Almeida, according to Herbert Matthews, was a "fanatically brave" leader. He was wounded at least once and, according to Che Guevara, probably saved his life in an early skirmish with Batista's forces. Almeida led guerrillas in a fierce battle in September 1958 when a high-ranking Batista colonel was taken prisoner, the highest ranking officer captured by Castro's forces during the Sierra Maestra campaigns.
Almeida was then, and until his death, especially close to Raúl Castro, who promoted him to the rank of comandante early in the guerrilla war and gave him command of a guerrilla column, only the third one created. Years later he and Valdes, and only a few others, were honored with the title Commander of the Revolution. He served in a variety of capacities in Raúl's armed-forces ministry, as chief of staff, and in the mid 1970s as acting minister when Raúl resided in the Soviet Union for extended military training.
Almeida is not known, however, to have served either as a clandestine volunteer or a leader of Cuban expeditionary forces in any of the Third World conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s where Cuba intervened. There is no evidence that he ever held the rank of general after the new system of military ranking was introduced in the 1970s.
For many years he occupied prominent positions in the highest ranks of the Cuban Communist Party and its predecessor organizations. In March 1962 he was one of 25 named to the directorate of the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) that fused the pre-Castro communist party with the two leading "revolutionary" organizations that waged war against the Batista regime.
Almeida was one of 12 members inducted from Castro's own 26th of July Movement, and the only Afro-Cuban among them. Later, he served continuously on the Communist Party Politburo.
But it has never been suggested that Almeida performed policy making or important administrative functions other than as a figurehead or ceremonial front man. He rarely gave speeches, avoiding situations where he would be asked to speak extemporaneously. He was described by one early historian of the revolution as "almost illiterate" and by another as of "limited intellect." He had little or no formal education before the revolution. An apprentice bricklayer when he joined Fidel Castro's incipient movement before Moncada, he is said until then to have performed manual labor from the age of 11.
Most historians agree that he was always malleable once he devoted himself to the Castro brothers. Hugh Thomas wrote that "he was willing to follow Fidel anywhere under any circumstances." Tad Szulc described him as a fidelista "knight."
But in the mid 1960s, and possibly again in more recent years, Almeida may have strayed from such blind fealty. Defectors and refugees have reported that after the missile crisis and the purges and tumultuous political upheavals of the 1960s he at least temporarily lost faith in Fidel's leadership.
Eyeing the other side
According to uncorroborated accounts, he was attracted to the conniving of high-ranking conspirators in the armed forces. Whatever his involvement may have been, he was subsequently cleared or rehabilitated by the Castros and then served for several more decades as their most celebrated Afro-descended revolutionary.
His death has not altered the dynamics of Cuba's leadership, and as the foremost symbol of Afro-Cuban participation in the revolution's senior counsels, he has been succeeded by younger men, including Esteban Lazo. But as one of the last remaining links to all the myths and exaggerated history of determined revolutionary struggle he is survived now by only three others, also in their twilight years.
Source: Miami Herald