HAVANA (AP) — Melba Hernandez, one of two women who helped Fidel Castro launch his revolutionary battle with a failed 1953 attack on a military barracks, and who was later named a “heroine of the Cuban Revolution” has died at age 92.
A message from the Communist Party’s Central Committee published Monday in the party newspaper Granma said Hernandez died the previous night of complications from diabetes.
“She is one of the most glorious and beloved combatants of the revolutionary quest, (and an) imperishable example of the Cuban woman,” it read.
With her crown of snowy white curls, Hernandez was occasionally seen at official events in her later years, accompanied by one or the other of the Castro brothers. Fidel stepped down due to ill health in 2006, passing command to his younger brother Raul.
Born on July 28, 1921, Hernandez was five years older than Fidel Castro and remained faithful to him throughout her life.
At the time of the July 26, 1953, assault on the Moncada Barracks in the eastern city of Santiago, Hernandez — like Castro — was a young attorney who had grown increasingly fed up with government corruption under Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a 1952 coup.
She signed on to Castro’s assault plans and obtained 100 uniforms for the attackers from an army sergeant who later joined the movement.
She and the only other woman involved in the operation, Haydee Santamaria, sewed insignia showing military ranks onto the uniforms. At a farm in the hours before the operation, the women ironed the uniform slacks and shirts.
The assault failed miserably, with many of the attackers killed by government soldiers and the rest, including Castro, arrested. The women, who were waiting nearby to provide medical assistance to their comrades, were also jailed. Santamaria’s brother Abel was tortured and killed in prison.
Hernandez and Santamaria were freed months before the men and organized support rallies for those still jailed. They also distributed writings by Castro that were smuggled from behind bars — essays that helped rally sympathy for the revolutionaries.
Castro corresponded frequently with Hernandez when he was in prison, giving instructions on helping run his July 26 Movement. After the remaining rebels were freed, Hernandez traveled to Mexico with the group, including her new husband and fellow revolutionary Jesus Montane, to help organize a guerrilla army.
She did not, however, join the band that sailed from Mexico to launch an uprising in Cuba’s eastern Sierra Maestra.
A member of the rebels’ national directorate, Hernandez became a member of the guerrilla army’s Third Front. Batista fled the country Jan. 1, 1959, and Castro took power soon after.
Hernandez later helped found the Communist Party of Cuba and served as ambassador to Vietnam and Cambodia.
She also was secretary-general of the Organization for the Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, a group founded in Cuba in 1966 to support independence struggles in developing nations.
In 1997, Hernandez was among five women from around the world who received human rights awards from Col. Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, long an ally of Cuba.
The University of Havana granted Hernandez an honorary doctorate in international relations in July 2007. “Melba has been one of the greatest exponents of Cuban diplomacy,” National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said at the ceremony.
The announcement in Granma said Hernandez was to be cremated and her ashes interred in a cemetery alongside the remains of other participants in the Moncada attack.
Montane died in 1999 and Santamaria in 1980.
Associated Press writers Peter Orsi and Anne-Marie Garcia contributed to this report.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – About two dozen Iraqi women demonstrated on Saturday in Baghdad against a draft law approved by the Iraqi cabinet that would permit the marriage of nine-year-old girls and automatically give child custody to fathers.
The group’s protest was on International Women’s Day and a week after the cabinet voted for the legislation, based on Shi’ite Islamic jurisprudence, allowing clergy to preside over marriages, divorces and inheritances. The draft now goes to parliament.
“On this day of women, women of Iraq are in mourning,” the protesters shouted.
“We believe that this is a crime against humanity,” said Hanaa Eduar, a prominent Iraqi human rights activist. “It would deprive a girl of her right to live a normal childhood.”
The UN’s representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, also condemned the legislation. Mladenov wrote on Twitter the bill “risks constitutionally protected rights for women and international commitment”.
The legislation goes to the heart of the divisions in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, as Shi’ite Islamists have come to lead the government and look to impose their religious values on society at large.
It describes girls as reaching puberty at nine, making them fit for marriage, makes the father sole guardian of his children at two and condones a husband’s right to insist on sexual intercourse with his wife whenever he wishes.
The legislation is referred to as the Ja’afari Law, named after the sixth Shi’ite imam Ja’afar al-Sadiq, who founded his own school of jurisprudence.
The draft was put forward by Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimari, a member of the Shi’ite Islamist Fadila party, and approved by the cabinet on February 25.
It must now be reviewed by parliament, but the draft could very well languish, with national elections scheduled for April 30, and vocal opposition among secularists.
Shi’ite religious parties first attempted to pass a version of the law in 2003 under U.S. occupation, angering secular Iraqis and prompting protests. Since then, amid Iraq’s turmoil, the tug-of-war has continued between Iraq’s secularists and Islamists.
Iraq’s current personal status law enshrines women’s rights regarding marriage, inheritance, and child custody, and has often been held up as the most progressive in the Middle East.
The proposed new law’s defenders argue that the current personal status law violates sharia religious law.
“This is the core of the freedom. Based on the Iraqi constitution, each component of the Iraqi people has the right to regulate its personal status in line with the instructions of its religion and doctrine,” said Hussein al-Mura’abi, a Shi’ite lawmaker and Fadila party leader.
(Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy. Editing by Ned Parker and Andrew Roche)