Vilma Espín

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Vilma Espín
Vilma Espín.jpg
Personal details
Vilma Lucila Espín Guillois

(1930-04-07)7 April 1930
Santiago de Cuba
Died18 June 2007(2007-06-18) (aged 77)
Havana, Cuba
Raúl Castro (m. 1959)
Children4, including Mariela and Alejandro
AwardsLenin Peace Prize 1977–78

Vilma Lucila Espín Guillois (7 April 1930 – 18 June 2007) was a Cuban revolutionary, feminist, and chemical engineer. She was married to Raúl Castro, the current First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, who is the brother to former First Secretary Fidel Castro. Espín had four children (Deborah, Mariela, Nilsa, and Alejandro Castro Espín) and seven grandchildren. Her daughter, Mariela Castro, currently heads the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, and her son, Alejandro Castro Espín, is a Colonel in the Ministry of Interior.

Early life[edit]

Vilma Espín Guillois was born on 7 April 1930, in Santiago de Cuba[1] the daughter of a wealthy Cuban lawyer, Jose Espín and wife Margarita Guillois. She had four siblings, Nilsa, Iván, Sonia and José.[2] Espín attended Academia Pérez-Peña for primary school and studied ballet and singing at the Asociación Pro-Arte Cubano during the 1940s.[3] In the 1950s, she studied chemical engineering at Universidad de Oriente, Santiago de Cuba (one of the first women in Cuba to study this subject),[1] and did post-graduate work at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[1]

Role in the Cuban revolution[edit]

Raúl Castro, Vilma Espín, Jorge Risquet and José Nivaldo Causse (1958)

Returning home, she became more involved with the opposition to the dictator Fulgencio Batista.[1] A meeting with revolutionary leader Frank País led her to become a leader of the revolutionary movement in Oriente province. Espín met the Castro brothers who had relocated to Mexico after their failed armed attack on the Moncada Barracks. Espin acted as a messenger between the Julio 26 Movement in Mexico and Pais back in Cuba. She then went on to assist the revolutionaries in the Sierra Maestra mountains after the 26th of July Movement's return to Cuba on the Granma yacht. She and Raúl married on 26 January 1959.[4]

Vilma Espin was one of the most significant revolutionaries to prevent any intervention by the United States government. In 1957, General Lyman Kirkpatrick of the CIA was sent to Oriente Cuba to find out whether or not Castro's Julio 26 Movement had any ties to communism. He was sent to meet with some of Cuba's main financial supporters of the revolution. The largest of these was Bacardi Corp. Vilma Espin's father was Bacardi Corp.'s main lawyer. She agreed to sit down and meet with General Kirkpatrick. When asked about Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara's ties to communism, she replied by saying that these claims were laughable. She said, "all such accusations were Batistiano rumors." She convinced General Kirkpatrick that there were no communist ties, as he was reported to have returned home in support of Castro.[5]

Vilma Espin was an outspoken supporter of gender equality in Cuba. Her involvement in the revolution helped transform gender norms in Cuba and in 1960, Espin became the president of the Federation of Cuban Women (Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas). She advocated female literacy, a woman's right to work, and teaching women basic skills in health and education. In 1960, when sugar mills and cane fields were under attack across Cuba shortly before the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Federation of Cuban Women created the Emergency Medical Response Brigades to mobilize women against counter-revolution.[6] The values held by Espin were shared by Fidel Castro and the Cuban government. In 1966, Castro made a speech to the nation, urging women to join the labor force. Because the women who joined spent less time at home with their children, the Federation of Cuban Women created child care centers for children of working women.

Role in the Cuban government[edit]

Espín was President of the Federation of Cuban Women from its foundation in 1960 until her death. The organization is a recognized[citation needed] non-government organization which claims a membership of more than three and a half million women, and is generally recognised as a Quango or GONGO. Espín also served as a member of the Council of State of Cuba, as well as a member of the Central Committee and the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1980 to 1991.

Espín was often referred to as Cuba's "First Lady" because of her close relationship with the Castros.[7] She was involved in the passing of the Cuban Family Code of 1975 which required shared housework between a man and woman.

Espín also headed the Cuban Delegation to the First Latin American Congress on Women and Children in Chile in September 1959. She also headed the Cuban delegations to the Conferences on Women held in Mexico, Copenhagen, Nairobi and Beijing.


Tomb of Vilma Espín

Espín died in Havana at 4:14 p.m. EDT on 18 June 2007, following a long illness.[8][9] An official mourning-period was declared from 8 p.m. on 18 June until 10 p.m. on 19 June. Fidel Castro delivered an eulogy for Espín on the day after her death, praising her virtues and work.[8] Her body was cremated, and her remains rest in the Frank País Mausoleum, Municipio II Frente in the province of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.


  1. ^ a b c d Depalma, Anthony (20 June 2007). "Vilma Espín, Rebel and Wife of Raúl Castro, Dies at 77". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  2. ^ Gott 2005, p. 160.
  3. ^ Ferrer Gómez & Aguilar Ayerra 2015, p. 603.
  4. ^ Ferrer Gómez & Aguilar Ayerra 2015, p. 604.
  5. ^ "Vilma Espin Guillois | Cuban revolutionary and women's rights activist". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  6. ^ Espín, de los Santos & Ferrer 2012, p. 228.
  7. ^ Schanche, Don A. (15 May 1990). "Profile: Cuba's 'First Lady'—Her Power Is Real". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  8. ^ a b Ferrer Gómez & Aguilar Ayerra 2015, p. 660.
  9. ^ "Falleció la heroína de la clandestinidad y combatiente destacada del Ejército Rebelde Vilma Espín Guillois". Granma (in Spanish). 18 June 2007.


  • Espín, Vilma; de los Santos, Asela; Ferrer, Yolanda (2012). Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution. New York: Pathfinder. ISBN 1604880368.
  • Ferrer Gómez, Yolanda; Aguilar Ayerra, Carolina (2015). Vilma Espín Guillois: El Fuego de la Libertad (in Spanish). Havana: Editorial de la Mujer. ISBN 9789597217800.
  • Gott, Richard (2005). Cuba: A New History. Yale Nota Bene. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300111142.

External links[edit]